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Selective Hearing

Often at our clinic we have people who call to book appointments for their partner or spouse, usually accusing them of selective listening. Of course, we’ve all heard the phrase. The conversation typically goes something like this: “he sits in front of the TV and hears it just fine but he doesn’t hear me when I talk to him”. Many, many people throughout history have been accused of not listening to their spouses. I would like to take a minute to explain what is likely happening.

Hearing consists of two main elements. The first is a person’s ability to physically detect and hear a sound. This occurs when there is a sound which is received by the ear and transmitted from the ear to the brain through a series of neurological connections. The basics of this are quite simple. The reaction occurs or it doesn’t.

The second element is much more complex. When the brain receives the signal, it must interpret the series of seemingly random neurological sparks into something that is perceived as sound. That may be spoken language, music, or any number of different items. This comprehension is a much more complex process than simply hearing. Sometimes we can run into trouble when there are multiple levels of stimulation, i.e. the television and a person talking at the same time, or a busy restaurant with many people talking around you. Generally speaking we do quite well understanding a single source stimulation. Some people, however, have a difficult time with multiple sources.

If someone you love is being accused of having selective hearing, it may be that they just aren’t processing a voice when their mind is focused on something else. Please be gentle with them. Then again, you could be right. Either way a hearing test is always a good idea.