A noisy Italian disco may not seem like a conducive location for scientific experiments, but for a couple of researchers investigating hearing and language processing it was perfect. The undercover scientists studied clubbers who were trying to talk while the music was pumping, and found that they showed a decided preference for speaking into each other’s right ears. What’s more, when the researchers approached clubbers with a request for a cigarette, they found the unwitting test subjects were much more likely to comply if the petition was made in the right ear.
Previous lab studies have also suggested that humans tend to have a preference for listening to verbal input with their right ears and that given stimulus in both ears, they’ll privilege the syllables that went into the right ear. Brain scientists hypothesize that the right ear auditory stream receives precedence in the left hemisphere of the brain, where the bulk of linguistic processing is carried out [Wired.com]. Researchers say this bias holds true for both lefties and righties.
For the study, published in the journal Naturwissenschaften, researchers conducted three experiments. In the first study, 286 clubbers were observed while they were talking with loud music in the background. In total, 72% of interactions occurred on the right side of the listener. In the second study, researchers approached 160 clubbers and mumbled an inaudible, meaningless utterance and waited for the subjects to turn their head and offer either their left or their right ear…. Overall, 58% offered their right ear for listening and 42% their left [BBC News]. In the final test, when scientists asked for a cigarette, they found that of 88 people who were approached on the right side, 34 handed over a cigarette, while only 17 of 88 people approached on the left complied.
The Italian researchers picked the night club setting because the loud music allowed the cigarette-asker to approach people and speak directly into one ear without seeming “odd.” While the liquored-up setting might seem unconventional, they view their work in a real life setting as a valuable counterbalance to highly artificial in-lab psychological studies [Wired.com].
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