Posts Tagged ‘biology of listening’
A new study by Aron K. Barbey out of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and published in Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience, has made some interesting discoveries about emotional intelligence and general intelligence. In the article, “The study found significant overlap between general intelligence and emotional intelligence, both in terms of behavior and in the brain. Higher scores on general intelligence tests corresponded significantly with higher performance on measures of emotional intelligence, and many of the same brain regions were found to be important to both.”
The article, published online at R & D Magazine (http://www.rdmag.com/news/2013/01/researchers-map-emotional-intelligence-brain), continues, “The new findings will help scientists and clinicians understand and respond to brain injuries in their patients, Barbey says, but the results also are of broader interest because they illustrate the interdependence of general and emotional intelligence in the healthy mind.”
Barbey also states, “Intelligence, to a large extent, does depend on basic cognitive abilities, like attention and perception and memory and language…But it also depends on interacting with other people. We’re fundamentally social beings and our understanding not only involves basic cognitive abilities but also involves productively applying those abilities to social situations so that we can navigate the social world and understand others.”
We find this discovery of how important it is for us to be able to connect to others a notable outcome; another essential reason to improve our listening acuity.
Follow the link above to the article to learn more, and then share your thoughts with us. We’d love to hear your insightful comments.
There’s always new research being done on listening. I only report to you what’s documented, even the outré ones. Following are three pieces that I found fascinating.
1. According to the research results reported on Science Daily, children who participate in music lessons for as few as 1 to 5 years show improved neural processing of sounds as they near adulthood. This may translate to enhanced listening and learning for a lifetime.
“Based on what we already know about the ways that music helps shape the brain the study suggests that short-term music lessons may enhance lifelong listening and learning.” says Nina Kraus, the Hugh Knowles Professor of Neurobiology, Physiology and Communication Sciences at Northwestern.
2. This one requires a bit of a stretch to see how the research relates to listening—it’s really about voice, which is definitely an aspect of listening.
Sucking in helium from a balloon gives humans a squeaky, high-pitch-sounding voice, because the gas, which is less dense than air, pushes the resonance frequencies of the vocal tract upwards, but doesn’t change the sound at its source. An analysis of the gibbon’s squeaky songs suggested that the same is true for these apes. Like humans, the origin of the sound of a gibbon’s call, which occurs in the larynx, is separate from the vocal tools used to modify it, the research showed. [Listen to Gibbon Calls]
What’s more, the analysis demonstrated gibbons have expert control over the tuning of their vocal cords and tract when singing — an ability that is important to the subtleties of human speech and is mastered by soprano singers.
“This is the first evidence that gibbons always sing using soprano techniques, a difficult [vocalization] ability for humans which is only mastered by professional opera singers,” Nishimura said. “This gives us a new appreciation of the evolution of speech in gibbons while revealing that the physiological foundation in human speech is not so unique.”
The study was published this week in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
3. Do you hate it when people complain? It turns out there’s a good reason: Listening to too much complaining is bad for your brain in multiple ways, according to Trevor Blake, a serial entrepreneur and author of Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life. In the book, he describes how neuroscientists have learned to measure brain activity when faced with various stimuli, including a long gripe session.
“The brain works more like a muscle than we thought,” Blake says. “So if you’re pinned in a corner for too long listening to someone being negative, you’re more likely to behave that way as well.”
Even worse, being exposed to too much complaining can actually make you dumb. Research shows that exposure to 30 minutes or more of negativity–including viewing such material on TV–actually peels away neurons in the brain’s hippocampus. “That’s the part of your brain you need for problem solving,” he says. “Basically, it turns your brain to mush.”
Share any research you come upon, straight and kooky.
We were on a bush walk in South Australia and came upon a sign that said the area is the habitat of the very rare (only about 260) glossy black cockatoo. If you saw that sign, what would you do? Right, haul out your binoculars, walk very quietly, and look around. We saw evidence of the seeds they feed on, so we were sure we’d spot the bird. No luck, so we continued on the hike, all the way down an embankment to the water, across river rocks to our destination, The Old Cannery.
It wasn’t much of a site, but the journey there was worth it. On our return trip, once again at the place the bird could be, I wondered what would happen if my partner became incapacitated. I certainly would not be able to get him out. Just then, as I was walking along, looking up for yet once more chance to see the magnificent bird, I tripped and fell hard onto roots and rocks.
My wrist and arm were sore, my hand was bleeding, and my pride severely damaged. Once we hiked out, I was able to drive the car, albeit uncomfortably. We changed our ferry reservation to earlier, and went home to ice, ibuprofen and a wrap. All that happened on a Friday.
We returned to Colorado the following Monday and I saw an orthopedist the next day. Yes, I had two small breaks and was fitted with a splint to immobilize my wrist.
Here’s the part where my brain comes in. On the trip I read a most fascinating book The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, MD. Most of the book is about brain plasticity, including how the brain creates new maps to deal with malfunctions and injuries. So, I decided to observe what was happening as my brain and body had to cope with my wrist.
First of all, I’m very left handed and the break is on that side. Beforehand I did very little with my right side, but it came to attention almost immediately. I drove to the ferry with my left hand on the gearshift (ouch) but my right arm, almost without my being aware, reached over to help. Since then, I observe myself becoming more and more ambidextrous: eating, brushing hair, closing car door, cooking, sorting laundry, typing (as fluid as ever with right and peck with left), and sleeping on my other side.
It might be wishful thinking, but I also notice my thoughts are more concrete and I’m more apt to remember details. I even found myself to a destination with logic rather than my GPS. Maybe Dr. Doidge’s writing is influencing me, or maybe what I’m experiencing is what he writes about. Whichever, I intend to keep using my right hand once the left is healed because I like having greater capacity.
Have you ever had a similar situation? What did you notice?
There was an excellent article on January 14, 2012 in Science News titled “Brainy ballplayers: Elite Athletes get their heads in the game” by Nick Bascom. The article explains the vital role brainpower has in the prowess of super athletes (and the rest of us too).
The article not only does an excellent job of citing the latest research on the relationship of the brain to athletic performance, it also explains some of the terms neuroscientists and other specialists are using these days. Here are definitions of some of those terms to upgrade our shared knowledge:
Overall brain activation: neural regions that are engaged. The more expert we are the lower the overall brain activation we display. In other words, we don’t use what we don’t need to do a task with focused attention.
Brain Mapping: set of neuroscience techniques that spatially represent the activity of the brain to show what the brain is doing whether we are consciously or unconsciously engaged.
Motor centers: Areas of the brain that direct movement (superior parietal and premotor). These areas are heightened for professional athletes while amateurs show dispersed activity, especially in the regions that control emotions (basal ganglia and limbic system). It’s why high-performing people tune out everything but what they are doing at the moment.
Optimal solution: Experts don’t pay too much conscious attention to what they’re doing; rather they rely upon their expert brain that knows what to do. In the article he sites Yogi Berra’s famous line, “I can’t think and hit the ball at the same time.” So much for the multitaskers among us.
Automaticity: To access complex actions automatically requires a huge amount of training and practice to develop nerve connections. The author says attributes we’re born with play a big role in how close to perfection we can come, regardless of the amount of practice.
Noise: Sensory static that “prevents the muscles from hearing the message the brain is sending.”
Mirror-neurons: a system for matching what you do with what you see others doing.
Anticipation: the ability to predict a movement. We decide if we should expend energy on a certain response by reading what another person is doing. I think of people listening, and sometimes people shut down because they aren’t interested enough to follow along. The ability to anticipate well means one can sort out relevant versus irrelevant clues. That can be expedient or troublesome.
Forward models: the ability to pre-plan. Previous experiences allow the brain to go into calculation mode to predict how to respond.
Priors: the accumulated knowledge the person has seen before. The expert’s predictive machine is constantly being updated. That’s why many CEO’s will say they trust their gut to make a decision when actually it’s their forward model and priors telling them what they know and what the likelihood of success will be.
Prefrontal cortex: part of the brain often called The Director. It’s job is to control information and sometimes it puts us into over-analysis, which paralyzes and clouds judgment. We overthink when we should just be listening, not judging, composing, or thinking.
The article ends with a quote from a song by En Vogue, “Free your mind, and the rest will follow.” Of course, there’s also this one, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
My (The) half-hour session is entirely painless; the apparatus does not irradiate the brain but passively measures its electrical activity at different frequencies to assess my attention, emotional engagement and likely memory retention of each clip.
My electroencephalography (EEG) session typifies the experience of hundreds of subjects who have their brains scanned every day in laboratories around the world, in the cause of better marketing. As they look at product prototypes, packaging designs and advertising campaigns, neuromarketing experts read their brainwaves to glean insights into their unconscious likes and dislikes, which might not appear through questioning in conventional market research.
- Suppose these neuromarketing techniques were applied to listening at work? Since we spend almost half our day at work in listening situations, wouldn’t it be powerful if we all had some device that was constantly measuring attention, emotional engagement and likely memory retention?
A little too Orwellian you say? Actually, we already do that, but the device is our own powers of observation. People who are trained to pick up signals can tell who’s here and who’s somewhere else.
- Why does it seem to be more reliable when a machine (EEG, MRI) measures listening than when a person uses intuition and honed habits to make those determinations? Research tells us that people yearn for definitive/right answers, and humans can make too many assumptions and mistakes; whereas a machine will provide objective, data-driven results. I’d love to see a true comparison done at a workplace meeting.
- Is neuromarketing a flavor of the day, or does it supply solid, valuable information that can be used in positive ways? Personally, I don’t care if the data are mined to sell people stuff—advertising has always been on the forefront of using new techniques to get to the consumer.
- But let’s turn the conversation to the transformational uses. What comes first to mind for me is to use it to differentiate teaching that will excite, turn on, engage students. Can you imagine pairing teaching techniques with listening preferences?
And then there’s our political systems. People are protesting around the world because they want access to decisions, policies, fair rule-of-law, information, technology, speech, and many more. Many of the U.S. politicians are out of touch with their constituencies. If they really want to represent their constituencies, they’d use neuromarketing to discover what their people value and create programs/policies that matter instead of projecting their beliefs, value systems, and antiquated party lines onto everyone else.
What ideas do you have for positive uses of neuromarketing?
Hearing Bilingual: How Babies Sort Out Language
By Perri Klass, M.D.
Published: October 10, 2011
Over the past decade, Ellen Bialystok, a distinguished research professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, has shown that bilingual children develop crucial skills in addition to their double vocabularies, learning different ways to solve logic problems or to handle multitasking, skills that are often considered part of the brain’s so-called executive function.
These higher-level cognitive abilities are localized to the frontal and prefrontal cortex in the brain. “Overwhelmingly, children who are bilingual from early on have precocious development of executive function,” Dr. Bialystok said.
Dr. Kuhl calls bilingual babies “more cognitively flexible” than monolingual infants. Her research group is examining infant brains with an even newer imaging device, magnetoencephalography, or MEG, which combines an M.R.I. scan with a recording of magnetic field changes as the brain transmits information.
Differences in Listening Between a Man and a Woman
By Ashley Black, eHow Contributor updated May 23, 2011
Gender differences exist, and scientists are still discovering more differences. Besides being physically different in size, shape and strength, men and women often react differently to medications. Women also have better night vision and have better visual memory while men have better distance vision and depth perception. Are gender differences present in the act of listening as well?
- Listening Style ~ According to Larry Barker and Kittie Watson, authors of the book “Listen Up,” men and women typically employ different listening styles. Men are more likely to be action-oriented listeners, which means they focus on listening to information pertinent to the task at hand. Action-oriented listeners have little patience for speakers who ramble off topic or include unnecessary details. Women are more likely to be people-oriented listeners. They connect with the emotional message and undertones of a conversation and are more concerned with the occurrence of the conversation than with the pertinent information discussed.
- Response Style ~ Men and women in listening roles during conversations tend to express their responsiveness in different ways. Women often interject with small acknowledging remarks such as “yes,” “I see,” and “mm-hmm” to show the speaker that they are actively listening and processing the contents of the conversation. Men tend to listen silently, interjecting sparsely and usually only to ask clarification. The difference in response style can cause women to assume that men aren’t actively listening to them in conversations, while men tend to think that women over-listen.
- Brain Activity ~ The difference in listening habits of men and women is more than just perceptual. A study by Dr. Micheal Phillips, a neuroaudiologist at the Indiana University School of Medicine, found gender differences in the brain activity of men and women. Brain imaging scans showed that the left brain hemisphere of men in the study was activated while listening, while both hemispheres were activated in women. This data suggests that there is a physical difference in listening between men and women.
- Listening Ability ~ Despite all the research targeted at dissecting gender differences in listening, there is little to no evidence to suggest that members of one gender are better listeners than members of the other. Men and women listen equally well. Listening ability appears to be more due to individual differences and circumstances than due to gender differences.
What’s your experience that does/does not validate this research?
As 2011 comes to an end, we’ve been thinking of all the wonderful people we met, worked and thought along with in person and online. I received an email that said, “So, Listening Lady, what did you learn this year?” A very provocative question.
Here’s my answer:
- Listening is like a muscle that needs constant attention to build its strength and agility.
- Master listeners inquire five times more than they advocate.
- Our brains, bodies and emotions create the listening habits we rely on.
- The highest paid people are often described as being good listeners.
- The Golden Rule doesn’t apply to listening. Instead it might better be stated: Listen to Others as They Want to Be Heard.
May the coming year bring renewed energy to do what matters most to you in life and tremendous satisfaction for your contributions.
With best wishes,
Marian Thier and our Listening Impact Team
Keep in touch, and add your listening learning of 2011 to this list.
Following are some reviews about Incognito, The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman, Pantheon Books, New York, 2011. I highly recommend it.
This book argues the following ideas and more:
- Your conscious mind is the “tip of the iceberg” and the rest of the iceberg (your brain) is what is really running the show
- The vast majority of your brain’s processing which leads to what you do and what you think is not accessible to your conscious mind
- Your brain contains many modules that overlap and compete as rivals
- “You” are your biology, but you can’t be understood by simple reductionism
- You have little if any “free will” and what that means
- Your neurobiology is a result of a constant interplay of genes and environment
One of the more intriguing facts revealed in this book is that one part of the brain invents stories to justify what another part sees or feels. Our brains constantly look for order and reason, even when there is none, leading us to regularly reach erroneous conclusions.
…extremely well documented, exploring the limits of sensory perception, the learning that is automatic and burnt into our circuits
Incognito is a book of answers and a book of questions. We learn that 15% of women have four color receptors, not three like the rest of us. These tetra chromatic women actually see colors that others can’t. Then again because of the variations in our individual brains, reality can be subjective. When we look at something red, are we seeing the same thing? Are our perceptions of size, color, and light universally the same?
According to Eagleman our brain constructs our reality. We may think that we’ve just had a brilliant inspiration, but our subconscious had already come to the realization minutes before sharing it with our conscious mind.
An example: “Your consciousness is like a tiny stowaway on a transatlantic steamship, taking credit for the journey without acknowledging the massive engineering underfoot” (pg 4).
Each one of us is much more than what we can ever think – it is amazing that we are aware only of a very small part of our brain. All of us strongly believe that we are in control of ourselves (at least most of the time) and so responsible for our actions. However our conscious self is more like the CEO of a large company that coordinates and supposedly directs the various divisions. The CEO may set the goals for the company, but he gets only a summary view of the situation and is seldom aware of the details. Similarly different sections of the brain work more or less independently – some through hard wired circuits that evolved over millions of years and others through culture and habits. We believe we are in charge but we are actually driven by what our brain (or more importantly different parts of our brain) perceives and tells us – surprisingly including what we see!
Fascinating take aways?
- Implicit Egotism – Why we tend to mate with people who remind us of ourselves.
- Illusion of Truth Effect – We are more likely to believe a statement we have heard before…even when originally told the statement is false.
- Subliminal priming of beer paired with an image of a woman causes her to be seen as more attractive.
- Multiple memories are “recorded” for some of life’s events.