Last week, I posted a blog about the difference between “hearing” and “listening” and how the latter is intimately connected to “active listening”.

Well, it appears that while hearing and listening helps in everyday life, our senses of seeing and touching are more important! A new study reveals that our brain processes what we see and what we touch a lot better than what we hear. The old adage of “in one ear and out the other” may just be true.

Associate professor of psychology and neuroscience Amy Porembra and graduate student James Bigelow at the University of Iowa conducted experiments to study how the brain processes and recalls sounds vis a vis our other senses. What they learned is that “… we don’t remember things we hear nearly as well as things we see and touch.” (Iowa study at 1.).

To reach this conclusion, they conducted two experiments:

In an experiment testing short-term memory, participants were asked to listen to pure tones they heard through headphones, look at various shades of red squares, and feel low-intensity vibrations by gripping an aluminum bar. Each set of tones, squares and vibrations was separated by time delays ranging from one to 32 seconds.

Although students’ memory declined across the board when time delays grew longer, the decline was much greater for sounds, and began as early as four to eight seconds after being exposed to them.

While this seems like a short time span, it’s akin to forgetting a phone number that wasn’t written down, notes Poremba. “If someone gives you a number, and you dial it right away, you are usually fine. But do anything in between, and the odds are you will have forgotten it,” she says.

In a second experiment, Bigelow and Poremba tested participants’ memory using things they might encounter on an everyday basis. Students listened to audio recordings of dogs barking, watched silent videos of a basketball game, and touched and held common objects blocked from view, such as a coffee mug. The researchers found that between an hour and a week later, students were worse at remembering the sounds they had heard, but their memory for visual scenes and tactile objects was about the same. (Id. at 2)

From these experiments, the researchers concluded:

Both experiments suggest that the way your mind processes and stores sound may be different from the way it process and stores other types of memories. And that could have big implications for educators, design engineers, and advertisers alike. (Id.)

It can also have BIG implications for conflict resolution. Without doubt, most disputes are created through miscommunication and/or lack of communication. With respect to the former, that communication may be verbal. To the extent it is verbal, we may not remember everything that was said, according to the above experiments. Indeed, think back to any verbal exchange- no doubt, you can’t recall one hundred percent of what each participant said. You may not even be able to recall one hundred percent of what you said!

Perhaps this is why the wise person puts everything in writing as she knows her memory is faulty.

Or, to quote an old Chinese proverb: “I hear and I forget; I see, and I remember.” (National Geographic at 4)

… Just something to think about.

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