Why prefer my right ear for listening to music?

05 June 2011


a close up of someone with their hand to their ear, trying to listen



Alison, from Perth, Western Australia writes...

I use headphone ear buds for my audio devices, computer etc. Eventually over time one side of the ear bud headphones will stop working forcing me to buy a new pair. Until I can make it to the department store to replace the broken headphones I continue to use the broken headphones but strangely have noticed that I prefer to have the working ear bud headphone in my right ear only every time and dislike listening in my left ear. I generally find it hard to concentrate on for example a podcast if heard only through my left but not my right. Why would this be?  



Chris - What you've done, Alison, is to very elegantly demonstrate and recreate the work of a lady from Canada called Doreen Kimura, who used something called the "dichotic listening test" to show the dominance of one side of your brain over the other in decoding language.

What you do is you play two different sounds into the right and left ears simultaneously and, specifically, you play language.

You ask the person, "What do you hear?", or to report what they've been listening to.

You'll find they tend to pay much more attention to what's going in their right ear when it's language than in their left ear. The left ear is better at decoding music.

This is because the nervous system is all crossed over. So things that go on to the right of you get presented to the left side of your brain, while things that go on to the left of you tend to get presented to the right side of your brain.

So, if you feed in language - and your music has got lots of spoken words in it - into the right ear, most of it is getting presented to your left brain, which is where your language centre is, so therefore, it's preferable to listen via that route.

Beautiful question.


Wow interesting enough, I study and love to learn different languages. I study a lot 10+ hours each day (currently French), and curious enough, I NEVER listen to anything through my right ear, it bothers me, I really dislike it. So it goes for music (of course I use both many times, but most of the times I would say 90% I just prefer to listen to anything only through my left ear).

Any reasons why, does that make sense?

Thank you! :)

nice answer chris

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