Comment »Posted on Tuesday 23 June 2009 at 7:47 pm by Jacob Aron
In Biology

If you want someone to pay attention, speak to their right-hand side. That’s the advice of scientists Luca Tommasi and Daniele Marzoli from the University “Gabriele d’Annunzio” Italy. They performed a series of three studies, published in the online journal Naturwissenschaften that found humans are more likely to act on a request to their right ear rather than their left.

Unfortunately this is one of those occasions where I am not able to read the paper, which is a shame because it actually sounds quite interesting, as it involved scientists going clubbing.

It seems that laboratory studies have already determined a right ear dominance, thought to be a result of the superior verbal processing of the left brain hemisphere which controls the right side of the body. In order to confirm these results in a real life environment, Tommasi and Marzoli hit the nightclubs.

The first study involved simply observation. They watched 286 clubbers involved in conversations over the loud music, and found that 72% used their right ear when listening.

In the next study, the researchers got involved. Stepping out on to the dancefloor, they went up to 160 clubbers and mumbled inaudible nonsense, waiting for their victim to turn their head and offer a particular ear. The researchers then covered their tracks by asking for a cigarette. The results showed that 58% offered their right ear, but only women had a consistent right-ear preference.

The final study saw the scientists intentionally addressing 176 clubbers in a particular ear. This time they didn’t mumble, instead directly asking for a cigarette. In the previous study, where the clubber chose which ear to offer, there was no link between the likelihood of being given a cigarette and the ear involved. With this more direct approach, the researchers found they were significantly more likely to receive a cigarette when addressing the person’s right ear.

I’ve got this wonderful (if rather stereotypical) image of lab-coated scientists running up to clubbers and whispering in their ears, all the while clutching clipboards. I’m sure it wasn’t quite like that, but it must have been fun for Tommasi and Marzoli to put in a funding request for a night on the town.

In all seriousness though, this is an interesting result because it shows once again the strange split in the two sides of our brain. This, say the authors, is one of the few studies to clearly demonstrate this difference in an everyday environment.

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