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Re: Music listening styles

My response is anecdotal, however, based in cognitive and auditory science.  This is an issue that I, as an audiologist doing a lot of work in Auditory Processing, address on an almost daily basis. And, as someone with an APD/ADHD issue, I have my own experiences.

Listening styles are not so clearly cut. There are issues of auditory figure ground and binaural separation at work here. For me, I am a professionally trained musician/pianist raised to love the classics, yet I cannot sit with a set of headphones with my eyes closed and just listen. Just not enough sensory input for me. Yet, having that same music in the background enables me to concentrate on another task - an act of binaural direction, separation - whatever you want to call it. I am totally unable to study in a library, but have to have some type of background sound that will force me to direct my concentration away from the background to the foreground.

I won't even touch now the gender differences, there are just too many. One thing, women do tend to think more abstractly than men.

Harriet B. Jacobster, AuD
Board Certified in Audiology

On 9/27/2010 5:15 AM, Guy Madison wrote:
Dear Laszlo and the list,

I think this is a very important question, and it is also one that I have been pondering for years. It is my impression too that people tend to come in two distinct "listener styles": focused listening and background listening. Of course, many people can do both and switch between them and so forth. Nevertheless, there is one situation that seems to be "selective" - that which Laszlo describes when one listens ONLY, perhaps through headphones and with eyes closed - some people seem unable to do it! On type of explanation could be that these people are too "un-fascinated" by music itself to find it worth while to devote so much attention to it. Another type of explanation could be that they require more "things to happen", such that they become understimulated with only auditory stimuli, or - as Laszlo suggested - they simply have no need to listen focused because they *can handle* multiple stimuli simultaneously. 

Add to that another variety in which people gather to listen in this way, in concentration and without speaking, and then talk about one's experiences of the music after it has played to its end. That talking might arouse some association, which prompts the choice of another piece of music, which one then listens to in the same fashion, and so forth. I know that this happens in gatherings of men, but I have never heard that it has happened in gatherings of women or in mixed groups.

Therefore this seems an excellent opportunity to ask about such experiences among readers of this list.


Are there any studies on music listening habits of people? For me, "background listening" does not exist. I either concentrate on the music or on what I'm doing. That is, in a store I simply ingore the music - or find it annoying at most. But for my girlfriend, listening to music is always parallel with some activity such as cooking. She said she couldn't do what I'm doing: sitting in a chair with headphones on and eyes closed.
Is it a gender difference (i.e. women can concentrate on more things at the same time), or is there any other general thing that can be said in this respect?