I recently read this fascinating book by Joe Hallinan. I highly recommend it to everyone who makes mistakes. If that doesn't include you, you can stop reading now.
Uh-huh. I thought so.
Ever since I started blogging about my funny hearing mistakes, I've been intrigued by how my mind works to fill in the missing parts of conversation and tries its best to make sense of the garbled speech I hear.
Here's some examples:
When someone was describing a museum exhibit featuring parts of the body, I thought she said the finger instead of The Thinker. I think my misperception actually fits better with the context.
When a coworker was describing a bird that got out of its cage and flew around an apartment, I thought she said it landed in the cat dish rather than the cactus. It seems as though my mind was thinking about pet mishaps and naturally thought of cat. I have a dog who has large bowls for his food and water. I pictured in my mind the bird landing in a cat's dish of water. Splash! That would be funny. If I were the bird, I'd prefer my version over a prickly cactus landing. Ouch!
Recently I attended a library event where a photographer explained how you can use a point and shoot camera to maximum effect. He said he got on to doing art shows in order to make money. Silly me thought he said archery. In defense of my poor brain, I would like to point out his talk was all about "shooting things". Heh.
When I picked up Mr. Hallinan's book, I was hoping to read some research on hearing mistakes. But the subject wasn't covered. Undeterred, I emailed the author and received the following replies which I have received permission from him to post. The following is excerpted from the emails:
I really enjoyed reading your book Why We Make Mistakes. I was hoping you would include research about the mistakes that are most common in my life which are hearing mistakes. Do you have any information on that subject?
From the Author:
You raise a very good issue and one I've given a lot of thought to lately. I had thought about this some while I was writing the book, but decided against focusing on hearing mistakes in part because they are very hard to illustrate -- at least in a print medium. So my short answer is no. But hearing mistakes of the kind you describe are perfectly consistent with the other kinds of mistakes we describe in the book. For instance, I talk about how we all tend to "skim," -- noticing just enough to get by, drawing inferences where we can, etc. And it seems to me very likely that we do the same thing when we listen to someone speak at a lecture or give us directions: we "skim" hear, taking in some but not all of what is said.
From the Author's second email reply:
You can make mention, if you want, of the example we use of F.C. Bartlett and the native American story he has people read and then recount. I suspect something similar happens when we hear things and try to recount what we are told -- we only retain a fraction. In fact, one study found that the average judo fighter can recall only 29.3% of pre-match coaching instructions after the match is over.
This wasn't the kind of response I was hoping to receive. I really wanted some insight into the kind of hearing mistakes I make. The ones he refers to are ones I think people with good hearing make. Or am I in denial about my own level of attention to a speaker?
I received the following comment from Jonathan to my last blog post which seems particularly relevant to this discussion too:
Honestly, I always find it odd that people without hearing loss can mishear what other people said. I've associated this experience with being hard of hearing so much that it just seems bizarre that it's not exclusively an HOH issue. But, then it somewhat parallels to what someone, a hearing person, once said to me: hearing people don't listen, hard of hearing people do.
Do you agree that the examples I gave above of my own mistakes are different from the hearing mistakes the author cites as due to lack of attention. I would argue I was putting a lot of effort into following the conversation based on the context I was able to decipher. Or do these examples prove my brain uses inference to understand speech the same way as someone with regular hearing does?