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  • Dan FitzPatrick

Can You Hear Me Now?


I am about to be very non-PC (politically correct) in terms of highlighting a difference between men and women, and I am going to rely on science to shield me from reasonable criticism.

Here is my thesis: men (biologically male people) should not be faulted for failing to listen to women (biologically female persons). Science tells us so; therefore (as we are constantly told these days), it must be true.

A study conducted in 2005 by the University of Sheffield and published in the journal NeuroImage discovered differences in the ways in which male and female brains process voice sounds, with the male brain processing male and female voices separately in different parts of the brain. This is because women’s voices are naturally more melodic and span a more complex range of frequencies than those of men.

The male brain processes a male voice in a part of the brain towards the back (often referred to as the “mind’s eye”) where people compare experiences to themselves (thus a man is comparing another man’s voice to his own, which is both more familiar and easier to process). When a man hears a woman’s voice, its melodic aspect causes it to be processed in the auditory section of the man’s brain, which is where males process complex sounds such as music. So, when a man is listening to a woman’s voice, he must exert more effort, consciously or subconsciously, to concentrate on what he is hearing. If he is distracted or there is some other impediment to his concentration, (e.g., environmental noise), he may not be able to process the voice appropriately and quite literally “does not hear” her.

I do not mention this with the intent of giving all biological males a “get out of jail free card” for use in their relationships with their significant others. Rather, the lesson here is that we all should do our best to concentrate harder in our verbal interactions with each other so as to enhance the quality of our communication.

One note on “environmental impediments” to effective communication. Can other men relate to the following?

You are in a room (perhaps your new “home office”) and you hear your significant other call your name from another (likely far away) part of the house. Since you are personally very familiar with your own name (which probably doesn’t have so many syllables that it would be rendered melodically), your “mind’s eye” processes that communication quite clearly, and you respond with an acknowledgement. Then your significant other proceeds with a lengthy exposition of something (likely important) that you should be aware of, or do. Given the physical distance and likely physical barriers (walls, doors, etc.) and the need to switch parts of your brain in order to process these melodic strains, you cannot make heads or tails of what is being said. You politely explain (shout?) quite truthfully “I can’t hear you” and get up to move closer to your significant other so as to improve the chances of effective communication, only to be met with exasperation at the need to repeat what has been said (see picture above).

Or, you and your significant other are in the same room together. You step out for a moment for some reason or other, only to find on your return that your significant other is well into a discourse – with, or for, or about, you – that you clearly could not have heard given your physical absence from the room, but that you nevertheless will be held responsible for one way or the other at some time in the future (“I told you that!”).

When my wife (significant other) and I were married in Greenwich 35 years ago last month, the homilist’s theme was the critical importance of “communication, communication, communication” (in true Greenwich form, he leveraged the old real estate mantra “location, location, location”). In simplest terms, communication means the exchanging of information or ideas. The word exchange implies both transmitting and receiving. If something interferes with the receipt or processing of that information or idea, then the exchange, the communication, is impaired, and the one who speaks is not ”heard.”

We all want and need to be heard, to be respected and validated in our personhood. This is true not only in our personal relationships, but in our society as a whole. It seems today that everyone is talking at each other, not with each other. The never-ending cacophony of pundits pontificating, and partisans positioning, has turned off many people from listening to anyone or anything at all. This is as bad for the health of our society as a whole as it is for our relations with those we love.

We all need to start listening – actively, attentively, acceptingly, lovingly – to each other right now. We might be amazed at what we can learn from one another. It is said that this is why we all have two ears and only one mouth. That’s science. And who can argue with science?

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