Do Women and Men Hear Differently?

Posted by Living Sounds

do men and women hear differently
15Mar 2021

Is your partner really listening to you — and if they are, can they hear you? Women often complain that men don’t listen: it’s the butt of countless relationship jokes and stories. While these jabs are funny, it’s worth investigating whether there is an ounce of truth that backs this common grievance.

Do men and women really hear differently? If so, how does this affect our relationships? These purported differences can explain many disagreements, which in turn can result in a lot of frustration leading to resentment.  Learn how — and uncover the facts behind the myth.

Women May Have Better Hearing

In numerous hearing tests, clinics have found that their female patients of all ages are able to hear at frequencies above 2,000Hz. However, as women age, they were found to have more difficulty hearing low frequencies (1,000 — 2,000 Hz) compared to men. However both sexes are still at risk of hearing loss, especially as hearing declines with age.

So Are Men Bad Listeners? 

Many differences between males and females are biological. Male and female bodies do have innate differences; hearing, however, is not one of them. The fact is, male and female ears are physically the same. But there is evidence suggesting that how men and women hear are different. A quick caveat, though: these differences are not as black-and-white as you might think, but more grey-and-white.

Male vs. Female Brains

We say grey because of brain matter. Grey matter represents information processing centres, while white matter is related to networking these centres. Now, what does this have to do with how men and women hear? 

Let’s start with the amount of grey matter and white matter in male and female brains. A study by the University of California Irvine and the University of Mexico revealed that men’s brains had six times more grey matter than women’s. On the other hand, women’s brains had ten times more white matter than men’s. In a nutshell, men and women typically tap into different activity centres in the brain. This doesn’t mean that one sex is more cognitively advanced than the other. Both perform equally well.

However, this does reveal some interesting theories. Because males have more grey matter, they are likely to be more adept with localized tasks compared to those which rely on individualized information processing centres. In contrast, the presence of substantially more white matter has helped females excel at integration and assimilation: key skills that aid with language. This could explain the selective hearing that lots of women around the globe complain about their husbands.

Language Processing and Listening in Male vs. Female Brains

While male and female ears are anatomically the same, the dominance of different activity centres suggests that men and women hear differently. In particular, women appear to use both sides of the brain. On the other hand, men are said to rely more on just one part when listening. In various studies, women demonstrated activity in the temporal lobe on both sides of the brain. Men — despite showing neural activity in the temporal lobe — were more confined to the left side of their brain while listening.

The left side is associated with listening and speech, while the right processes non-auditory cues. Since women use both, they are thought to process both auditory and non-auditory cues (i.e. body language). This results in a more holistic listening experience, rather than using the left side alone, as men may tend to do. This could be why it’s commonly thought that women are much better listeners than men.

The Risk of Hearing Loss

The same patterns of listening are now being applied to hearing loss. Some studies and hearing clinics have found that men are actually over five times more likely to experience hearing loss than women. Considering the common misconception regarding men being “bad listeners” in comparison to women, this is quite ironic.

However, there may be real biological factors that determine these differences. For one, males are at higher risk of other diseases such as heart conditions and diabetes which have correlations to hearing loss. In addition, men are still more commonly employed in industries like construction in Edmonton, which involve the use of noisy heavy machinery, resulting in exposure to extremely loud noises.  These conditions contribute to hearing loss.

It also doesn’t help that even though men are at higher risk of experiencing hearing loss and requiring hearing aids, women are more likely to wear them. As a result, women who experience hearing loss may have a better chance at regaining their hearing.

I Hear You: Communicating Your Needs

Many couples struggle with having their emotional needs met. This often stems from feelings that they are not being heard. Even when physically together, many couples can feel distant due to communication barriers. This can result in questioning their relationship overall. While men are commonly accused of selective hearing, we know now that these differences are more of a misconception than a biological fact.

Instead, it may be more helpful to think of selective hearing in terms of how men and women listen and process communication differently. Men are often thought to focus primarily on the information at hand in order to complete a task or solve a problem, while women respond more to the underlying emotional tone of a conversation. Understanding these differences, and adapting accordingly, can help couples build a better relationship.

To learn more about the truth behind selective hearing in men vs. women and the risks of hearing loss, call one of our hearing clinics or contact us here.

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