How do you choose which ear to use with your cell phone? Study says it’s up to your brain

David Kirkwood
February 23, 2012

DETROIT—Do you use your right ear to listen to your cell phone? If so, you’re probably right-handed but left-brained. So says a new study conducted by researchers at the Henry Ford Hospital.

According to a news report issued this week by the Henry Ford Health System, scientists found a strong correlation between people’s brain dominance and the ear they use for their phone. More than 70% of the participants in the study hold their cell phone up to the ear on the same side as their dominant hand. However, in most cases, these right-handed and right-eared folks are left-brain-dominated, which means their speech and language center is on the left side of the brain. These left-brainers are also more likely to use their right hand for writing and other everyday tasks.

Correspondingly, right-brain-dominant people are more likely to use their left hand to hold the phone up to their left ear and to be left-handed.

Specifically, in the Henry Ford survey involving some 700 respondents, 68% of those who are right handed reported holding their phone to their right ear, while 25% used their left ear, and 7% used both ears interchangeably. Among the left-handers, 72% said they used their left ear for cell phone conversations, 23% their right ear, and 5% both.

The study also found that although most left-brain-dominant people hold the phone to their right ear, there is no perceived difference between their left-ear and right-ear hearing acuity.



Michael Seidman, MD, FACS, one of the study’s authors, says, “Our findings have several implications, especially for mapping the language center of the brain.” He explains, “By establishing a correlation between cerebral dominance and sidedness of cell phone use, it may be possible to develop a less invasive, lower-cost option to establish the side of the brain where speech and language occurs.” Now, he notes, this is determined by using the Wada test, which involves injecting an anesthetic into the carotid artery to put half the patient’s brain to sleep.

Seidman, who is director of the Division of Otologic and Neurotologic Surgery in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Henry Ford, adds that the study may offer further evidence that there is no link between cell phone use and tumors of the brain and of the head and neck.

The impetus for the study was to find an explanation for why most right-handed people use their right hand to hold their cell phone up to their right ear and most left-handers use their left ear on the phone. This practice, Seidman points out, is illogical. It would be much easier to take written notes while on the phone if you held the phone in your non-writing hand up to the ear on your non-writing side.

Along with Seidman, the other authors of the Henry Ford study are Bianca Siegel, MD; Priyanka Shah; and Susan M. Bowyer, PhD.

The results will be presented February 26 in San Diego at the 25th Mid-Winter Meeting of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology.

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