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How Men Hear Women

Week of August 8, 2005


            I have spent much of the last eight years dissecting research on a variety of matters for this column, which I do as a public service.  Besides developing the ability to read the official language of science, commonly known as “gobbledygook,” without slipping into a coma, I have learned to find practical uses for seemingly useless facts.

            For instance, last year I wrote about a study conducted by McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.  Researchers presented male and female college students photos of people of the opposite sex, some attractive and some not.  The test subjects were then offered the choice of receiving a small amount of money immediately or getting a much larger payout after a short wait. 

            Predictably, females always held on for the big bucks while the males who had been leering at pictures of beauties grabbed the quick loot.  The story was widely reported under one variation or another of the headline “Pretty Women Make Men Stupid,” which, while technically true, is simply not useful information.  At least not for men.

            No, that took the keen eye of a trained observer, in this case me.  I advised men to keep the McMaster study handy for the next time a boneheaded stunt inspired their beloved to ask the age-old question of women throughout history, “How could you possibly be so stupid?”

            Finally, I explained, there was a practical answer:  “Honey, I am just so blinded by your incredible beauty that I can’t think straight.  It’s a proven fact.  I am very sorry, but you can’t fight biology.” 

            I didn’t try it myself of course, not wanting to risk my professional impartiality.  But no one accepted my invitation to let me know how it turned out so I’m sure it worked just fine.  I figure no complaints means no problems.

            Now comes research from the University of Sheffield in England, which was reported under captions like “Male Brains Not Wired to Listen to Women.”  Most women could tell you they don’t feel sufficiently listened to by their men, and to the untrained eye it might appear this could be used like the McMaster study.  I can hear it now:  “I wasn’t ignoring you; it’s a brain thing.  I can’t help it.”

            Wrong, wrong, wrong.  Women might accept that men have congenital brain defects but the approach lacks finesse.  For that, one must learn the details.

            According to the University of Sheffield’s website, researchers played recordings of male and female voices for a number of male subjects.  They found that the men deciphered male and female voices in different parts of their brains. 

            Men apparently process female voices in the auditory section of the brain, which also handles music.  According to the website, “The female voice is actually more complex than the male voice (and has) greater natural melody … When a man hears a female voice (his brain) analyzes the different sounds in order to ‘read’ the voice and determine the auditory face.”  In other words, he mentally scopes her out to guess her “sex, size, and age.”

            Men process male voices in a more primitive part of the brain that is usually used for choosing between cheesy nachos and extra cheesy nachos.  The research did not address how women analyze a man’s voice but I suspect they mainly hear it as a series of grunts and clicks.  No melody there.

            In any event, men, here’s the spin.  The next time you’re nailed not paying attention, whip out the Sheffield study and say “Honey, your voice is music to my ears.  I was so caught up in the symphony that I couldn’t hear the words.” 

            I’d love to test it myself, but, you know, impartiality, conflicts of interest, and so forth.  But please feel free to let me know how it works.






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© 2005 Brent Morrison