by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A man asked:
Is there any difference between how our left and right ears hear and process sounds? I understand the process is different on the left and right side. Can you explain this?
Having two properly-functioning ears greatly improves our listening enjoyment and gives us more balanced hearing, especially when listening to music, or in small group situations. This is because our brains process different information from each of our ears. If we only have one properly-functioning ear, our brains only give us part of the message.
Our brains consist of two halves or hemispheres. The left side of our brain is the logical or the technical side. It gives us discrete pieces of information. The right side of our brain is the aesthetic side. It gives us our appreciation of beauty and our ability to recognize images and patterns of sound.
God wired our brains so that the sounds our right ears hear go mainly to the left side of our brains. There our brains interpret what a person is saying. The sounds our left ears hear go mainly to the right side of our brains. There our brains interpret how the person speaking means it. The two sides of our brains have many interconnecting links so they rapidly “talk” back and forth to each other as they are processing this information.
To be sure, some of the sound impulses from each ear travel to that same side of our brains. However most of the signals cross over to the other side of our brains. This extra information helps us hear and understand better. Thus we need both our ears to completely understand all sounds, speech and music.
For example, take the words “I love you.” Three simple words with a myriad of shades of meanings. Our right ear (and our left brain) would hear and interpret the actual words and analyze the context. Our left ear (and our right brain) would determine how we understand this message–whether sincere, sarcastic or casual.
When listening to music, we “hear” the sounds of the individual instruments of the orchestra in our right ear and “listen” to the blended beauty of the music itself with our left ear.
Therefore, only having one ear detracts from our ability to hear, understand and appreciate sound.
If you are hard of hearing, this is another reason why you need to wear hearing aids in both ears.