Can't hear you, dear ... blame my brain

WHETHER it is to do the dishes, clean the car or vacuum the living room, men now have an answer to their wife's war cry that they never listen: it's not me, darling, it's my brain.

Scientists now have discovered that women's voices are more difficult for men to listen to, and process information from, than the voices of other men.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield tracked activity in the brains of 12 men while playing recordings of different voices. The results showed that there were startling differences in the way the brain responded to male and female sounds.

Men deciphered female voices using the auditory part of the brain that processes music. In comparison, the sound of male voices engaged a simpler mechanism at the back of the brain.

Dr Michael Hunter, who led the research, said yesterday: "The female voice is actually more complex than the male voice, due to differences in the size and shape of the vocal cords and larynx between men and women, and also due to women having greater natural 'melody' in their voices.

"This causes a more complex range of sound frequencies than in a male voice.

"When a man hears a female voice the auditory section of his brain is activated, which analyses the different sounds in order to 'read' the voice and determine the auditory face.

"When men hear a male voice the part of the brain that processes the information is colloquially known as the 'mind's eye'," he said.

"This is the part of the brain where people compare their experiences to themselves, so the man is comparing his own voice to the new voice to determine gender."

The findings, published in the journal NeuroImage, are not only of use to neglectful males in trouble with their partners, it may also help to explain why people suffering hallucinations usually hear male voices.

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