Men Use Only Half of Brain to Listen

C H I C A G O, Nov. 28, 2000 -- Score one for exasperated women: New research suggests men really do listen with just half their brains.

In a study of 20 men and 20 women, brain scans showed that men when listening mostly used the left sides of their brains, the region long associated with understanding language. Women in the study, however, used both sides.

Other studies have suggested that women “can handle listening to two conversations at once,” said Dr. Joseph T. Lurito, an assistant radiology professor at Indiana University School of Medicine. “One of the reasons may be that they have more brain devoted to it.”

Battle of the Sexes?

Lurito’s findings, presented today at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting, don’t necessarily mean women are better listeners.

It could be that “it’s harder for them,” Lurito suggested, since they apparently need to use more of their brains than men to do the same task.

“I don’t want a battle of the sexes,” he said. “I just want people to realize that men and women” may process language differently.

In the study, functional magnetic resonance imaging — or fMRI — was used to measure brain activity by producing multidimensional images of blood flow to various parts of the brain.

Inside an MRI scanner, study participants wore headphones and listened to taped excerpts from John Grisham’s novel The Partner while researchers watched blood-flow images of their brains, displayed on a nearby video screen.

Listening resulted in increased blood flow in the left temporal lobes of the men’s brains. In women, both temporal lobes showed activity.

Women Might Overcome Stroke

The findings tend to support previous suggestions that women’s brains are “either more bilaterally dominant” or more right-side dominant in doing certain tasks than men’s, said Dr. Edgar Kenton of the American Stroke Association, a neurologist at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

Though preliminary, the study could help doctors treating stroke victims better understand how men’s and women’s brains differ, Kenton said.

It suggests that in a stroke affecting the brain’s left side, women might recover language ability more quickly than men, though that remains to be proven, Kenton said.