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Need a Favor? Talk To My Right Ear 288

Hugh Pickens writes "The Telegraph reports that scientists have found that if you want to get someone to do something, ask them in their right ear. Known as the 'right ear advantage,' scientists believe it is because information received through the right ear is processed by the left hand side of the brain which is more logical and better at deciphering verbal information than the right side of the brain. 'Talk into the right ear you send your words into a slightly more amenable part of the brain,' say researchers. The team, led by Dr. Luca Tommasi and Daniele Marzoli from the University of Chieti in central Italy, observed the behavior of hundreds of people in three nightclubs across the city where they intentionally addressed 176 people in either their right or their left ear when asking for a cigarette. They obtained significantly more cigarettes when they made their request in a person's right ear compared with their left. 'These results seem to be consistent with the hypothesized specialization of right and left hemispheres,' say researchers. 'We can also see this tendency when people use the phone, most will naturally hold it to their right ear.'"


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Need a Favor? Talk To My Right Ear

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  • I'm surprised (Score:2, Interesting)

    by soundhack ( 179543 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @12:26AM (#28462771)

    this isn't common knowledge by now, I noticed this years ago when I started using cell phones (especially the old analog ones). With a lot of noise, I could hear the person on the other end better if I held the cell phone next to my right ear.

    I wonder if handedness has any influence at all?

  • Re:Double Blind? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Miseph ( 979059 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @12:54AM (#28462933) Journal

    That also strikes me as a terribly unscientific test... even in Italy, not everyone smokes, and even the ones who do may be out of cigarettes or in a location not conducive to smoking. did they also record the number of people who gave logical, but negative (ie. "I don't have any"), responses? What if they didn't ask for cigarettes until the end of the night, so they were in short supply?

    What if people just got sick of them mooching and said no out of spite? As a former smoker, I can reasonably state that most are pretty generous to a point, but once you cross it they run out of sympathy very quickly... bumming cigarettes off of everyone you see can get you to that point very quickly.

    Did they make sure to get an even mix of responses for males asking males, males asking females, females asking females and females asking males? Did they make sure not to have the person asking in left ears be the one with no social skills and bad breath? When I was a smoker, a cute girl had a MUCH better shot at getting a cigarette from me than, say, some whiny dude... given that this was done at nightclubs, and what many people actually go to nightclubs to (attemp to) do, this is actually a pretty major consideration that I somehow doubt they took into consideration.

    And what the hell is with that sample size? 176 people? You went to 3 Italian nightclubs and could only find 176 smokers to ask for cigarettes between them? At least pretend you're trying to gather a statistically significant number of responses.

    I'm not necessarily sure that they shouldn't have run any experiments simply because it is their hypothesis... but if they're going to claim some sort of success for it then they certainly need a better experiment than asking people for cigarettes at a nightclub. Honestly though, if nobody ever did scientists to test their own hypotheses, we'd probably still be in the Aristotelian phase of scientific concept.

  • Re:Unconvinced (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dexmachina ( 1341273 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @01:16AM (#28463027)
    I don't know about the scientists in question, but I am a science major with classes in psych and neuroscience. Yes, I was simplifying. One of the other repliers to my original post explains it in a bit more detail. I make no claim to be smarter or more learned than anyone. In fact, without seeing the actual paper it's hard to tell if the contralateral explanation is even given by the actual authors- it's in the article intro after the vague "Scientists say..." leader, so it could just be BS on the part of the journalist.

    Ironic that in a post railing against jumping to conclusions, you know nothing about me and yet in two seconds flat come to the conclusion that I couldn't possibly know what I'm talking about.

  • Re:I'm surprised (Score:3, Interesting)

    by johnlcallaway ( 165670 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @01:26AM (#28463093)
    My understanding is that most people have a dominant eye, so why not a dominant ear. I discovered many years ago that when I tuned a guitar, I tended to turn my head to the right and 'listen' with my left ear. I determined it was because I could hear the tones better with my left ear for whatever reason.

    My wife just asked why I was typing so fast and furious, so I explained the above comment to her. She said that she too hears better from her right ear than her left hear.

    So maybe people just naturally hear better with one ear than the other and are more willing to be helpful to strangers when they understand them better. Granted, this is anecdotal evidence, but that is how theories usually start. I'll leave it to someone with large sums of grant money to prove or disprove it.
  • Re:Unconvinced (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 25, 2009 @01:43AM (#28463169)

    That is incorrect. The ascending fibers from the cochlear nuclei have decussating and non-decussating fiber bundles. The 'auditory nerve [sic]' is a far more complicated circuit than your post suggests.

  • dextrocardia (Score:3, Interesting)

    by robinesque ( 977170 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @01:45AM (#28463185)
    My girlfriend is left handed, BUT she has dextrocardia, a condition in which her heart is on the left side of her chest. Her liver is also mirrored. Persons with this condition often show mirroring in all of their organs, including the brain. She talks with the phone against her left ear...which I suppose would make sense according to this study.
  • by Demena ( 966987 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @01:53AM (#28463227)
    I'm the same. My phone ear is my left ear but I am right handed.
  • it puts this story in hilarious contrast:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article3817270.ece [timesonline.co.uk]

    If you're thinking of asking your beloved to marry you, make sure that you utter your declaration of love into his or her left ear; it may increase your chances of hearing a heart-lifting "yes". New research suggests that declarations of love, jokes, or words of anger are best remembered when they are heard through the left ear, while instructions, directions and non-emotional messages have more impact on the right side.

    It is all to do with how our brains process information. Although the left and right hemispheres, or sides, of the brain are similar structures, they have specialised functions. The left side, it is suggested, is more logic-based and dominant, while the right is the more imaginative side, more visual, intuitive, emotional and spatially aware. Because the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, the left ear has been shown in some research to be the route to the emotional side of the brain, and the right ear to the non-emotional, logical side.

    i don't know how true all of this is, but there's all sorts of anecdotes like this

    for example: women usually have their left breast a little larger than their right breast. regardless of which is larger, and regardless of handedness, women, and all simians in fact, and even breastless fathers, tend to hold their babies with their right arms to their left breast. this places the babies head on the left side of the body, putting the baby closer to the left side sensory inputs, which are governed by the right side of the brain, the more emotional side, thus establishing more of an emotional bond

    so i don't know about all this ear stuff, but there seems to be something, at best subtle, that is real about side preference and emotions and logic

  • Old Knowledge (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tgzuke ( 737692 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @03:57AM (#28463845)
    Right-ear advantage has been well-studied before (see Wikipedia's page on dichotic listening [wikipedia.org] tests for details). I remember it being presented as fact in my intro linguistics course 10 years ago. I recall that class also noting, however, that people who learn tonal languages such as Mandarin as a first language have a left-ear advantage instead [citation needed].
  • by BrokenHalo ( 565198 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @04:41AM (#28464035)
    I hold the phone to my left ear simply because I actually hear better through it. The industrial deafness thing bit me harder on the right ear for some reason...
  • Re:I'm surprised (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 25, 2009 @05:11AM (#28464203)

    I remember that, years ago, we used to all say that American males were more deaf in their left ears from driving around with the windows open. Italians would be in the same situation. If this were true, then a test in the UK should find more bias in the opposite direction due to driving right-hand-drive cars.

  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @06:44AM (#28464547) Journal
    Yeah I can make up bullshit explanations too.

    For instance most people are right handed, so usually their stronger and tougher side is their right side. Thus they are more comfortable if a stranger approaches them from the right than from the left (the weaker side).

    When people feel more comfortable with you, they are more likely to give you stuff.

    See I can make up explanations too.

    In fact, I think my explanation makes more sense. Since willingness to give stuff to people is very often not tied to logic or understanding at all. I bet when giving out something like a single cig the decision is more emotional (gut feel) than logical. You seldom bother using logic for such stuff.
  • by Atmchicago ( 555403 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:26AM (#28464687)
    I also hold the phone to my left ear despite being right-handed, but for a different reason: my right ear is deaf! I've often wondered if I perceive language and sound differently than others (besides the obvious lack of stereo). Perhaps doing a study with half-deaf people could give some interesting results.
  • by MetalPhalanx ( 1044938 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @10:12AM (#28465979)

    It might also have to do with your master eye. Just as you have a master hand, you actually focus more out of one eye, with the other providing mostly triangulation data (and of course extending your FOV, etc.). For MOST people, your master eye is the same as your master hand. There are some people who have opposites. There is a fairly simple test to determine which eye is your master, if you are curious google will explain how.

    I'm personally right handed with a left master eye. When I'm doing anything that requires accuracy (such as baseball, archery/shooting, hockey, etc) I have to do it left handed or my accuracy suffers. In fact, before I even found this out certain things just felt "right" to do left handed.

  • by honkycat ( 249849 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @02:55PM (#28470113) Homepage Journal

    It may be too late in the discussion for this to get any notice, but I have access to the journal where this research was published and I thought I'd share a few details. In summary, it is much better science than the /. crowd seems to think, the researchers have done their homework, and I haven't seen any posts here that raise serious methodological issues that are not somehow addressed in the work. This wasn't just some guys hanging out in a night club asking for cigarettes.

    Basically, they had three studies. The first was purely observational -- they "unobtrusively" observed interactions between people in the nightclub that started face-to-face and noted whether these progressed to talking in the right ear or the left ear. They adjusted for gender of speaker/listener, and other bias.

    The second study (which they refer to as "quasi-experimental") involved a female aware of the study but unaware of the hypothesis who would approach subjects (equal # male and female) face-to-face and say something unintelligible. If the subject turned one ear, she would then ask for a cigarette in the ear they offered. She always asked the same question, and only asked people whom she had not seen smoking (to prevent social effects that might bias people toward sharing).

    In the third study (also "quasi-experimental"), which is the one referred to most here, the female (still unaware of the hypothesis) now approached subjects from the front, but instead of allowing the subject to choose the ear, she selected left or right ear. Again, equal numbers of males/females were approached, and used the same question each time and still only approached subjects she had not seen smoking.

    The second and third studies were performed at different times, so there's no effect of people getting sick of this chick bumming cigs, and there were a number of other controls. In the first study, there was a conclusion that there is significant bias toward offering a particular ear. In the second, there was no significant trend for complying with the request for a cigarette in right vs left ear. In the third, several trends were found -- the main result announced in the thread that the right ear resulted in more positive outcomes, and also (not surprisingly) that men were more likely to offer a cigarette to the female when asked.

    Anyway, this is not junk science. There's a lot more to the study than the paragraph in the Telegraph told you about.

  • by rabiddeity ( 941737 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @04:34PM (#28471709) Homepage

    I'm also deaf in one ear as a result of head trauma. I've found that with only one ear it's much more difficult to pick out individual voices in crowds, much how one loses depth perception with only one eye. With two ears the brain is apparently able to attenuate sounds based upon direction. In effect, having two ears gives your brain enough data to decode spatial multiplexing, similar to MIMO receiving antennas.

    With just one ear the best you can do is frequency attenuation. This is why those with a certain vocal timbre are much easier to hear than others-- for example, the guy with the booming voice in the midst of a roomful of nasal mumblers. People who talk facing away are almost universally difficult to hear, as are those that continue to stand behind me on the weak side after I've told them not to. Some might think my habit of physically grabbing people by the shoulders and turning them around or moving them to the correct side after they do this two or three times is rather rude, but not nearly as rude as those speakers.

  • by NoobixCube ( 1133473 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @05:18PM (#28472547) Journal

    I know what you mean. I'm a proud grammar nazi, but I've recently started messing up their/there (but not they're, must be the apostrophe). My keyboard sometimes sticks on o, so it looks like I mess up to/too too :P.

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