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Sam Houston State Psychology Professors
Do Ear Research

Martinez and Sim
Saying just the right thing to a loved one to trigger a pleasant, heartfelt response is not always an easy thing to do. Sometimes, words of love can go in one ear of the person and straight out the other.

Thanks to research done by two psychology professors at Sam Houston State University, the answer to such a dilemma might be as easy as left and right.

According to a recent study conducted by Teow-Chong Sim and Carolyn Martinez, sweet nothings are best whispered into your sweetheart's left ear. Emotional words, the research suggested, get through to people better when spoken through the left ear.

The results of the study are consistent with the findings of earlier investigations on the role of the right hemisphere of the brain in the processing of emotional information. Past studies have shown that the left-hemisphere is the center for language and the right-hemisphere is responsible for non-language functions such as visuo-spatial tasks, music, and emotion.

Sim and Martinez concluded their findings after an experiment using 62 participants from general psychology classes at Sam Houston State, all of whom received extra credit towards the course grade for their participation.

The method and objectives of the study were explained to each participant before the experiment began. Each person then was given a set of headphones to listen to sets of words. Each set consisted of an emotion word on one ear and a non-emotion word on the other ear in a random pattern.

Both words in each pair had an equal number of syllables and were synchronized to begin and end at the same moment. There were eight trials, and each trial consisted of six sets of words with a one second gap between sets. The first two trials were practice trials. There were equal numbers of emotion and non-emotion words.

After listening to the word pairs, each participant was asked to solve 25 sets of simple arithmetic problems of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Finally, they were instructed to recall the words they had heard a few moments earlier. The results showed a left-ear advantage for emotional words.

The pair's research has received attention from media all over the world. USA Today, CNN, National Public Radio, as well as radio stations from South Africa and Bogota, Columbia have all run details of the study. Recently, Sim was interviewed by "Voice of America," a radio show out of Washington D.C. that is broadcast overseas as well as in America.

Articles have also appeared in news publications in Germany, Italy, and Australia.

"My co-researcher, Carolyn Martinez, and I were surprised at the world wide coverage of our study," said Sim. "We are planning on expanding the study to include other populations such as the clinical and cross-cultural population.

"We are also planning on using some other forms of auditory stimuli such as nonverbal cues that may connote emotions," he added. "The focus will continue to be on brain organization."

Sim said a manuscript of the experiment is nearing completion and will be submitted for publication in a cognitive psychology journal.

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SHSU Media Contact: Brandon Autrey
July 17, 2001
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