Men Use Only Half of Brain to Listen

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

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

Other studies have suggested that women “can handle listeningto two conversations at once,” said Dr. Joseph T. Lurito, anassistant radiology professor at Indiana University School ofMedicine. “One of the reasons may be that they have more braindevoted to it.”

Battle of the Sexes?

Lurito’s findings, presented today at the Radiological Societyof North America’s annual meeting, don’t necessarily mean women arebetter listeners.

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

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

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

Inside an MRI scanner, study participants wore headphones andlistened to taped excerpts from John Grisham’s novel ThePartner while researchers watched blood-flow images of theirbrains, displayed on a nearby video screen.

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

Women Might Overcome Stroke

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

Though preliminary, the study could help doctors treating strokevictims 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, thoughthat remains to be proven, Kenton said.