But hearing and remembering what someone has said could be a lot easier with one simple trick - listening with your right ear.
US researchers have found this is better because it means the sound travels straight to the left side of the brain.
This is the part of the brain needed to deal with speech, which processes language and controls part of the memory.
For humans, the right side of the body is controlled by the left side of the brain, and vice versa. So listening with your left ear will send the words you are hearing to the “wrong” location, and the information will have to be moved to a different part of the brain.
A study by Auburn University in Alabama tested 41 people, and found that those listening with their right ear did better on harder memory tests.
The superiority of the right ear had been shown before in newborn babies and children, but now also appears to apply to adults.
Dr Aurora Weaver, a member of the research team, said: “Conventional research shows that right-ear advantage diminishes at about the age of 13, but our results indicate this is related to the demand of the task.”
Adults in the study did not benefit from using their right ears at first, but when memory tests got tricky, individuals’ performance improved by up to 40% with that ear.
The participants, aged 19 to 28, were played words through headphones and told to focus on one ear while ignoring the other, or to repeat all the words they heard.
With each test, the researchers increased the number of words by one. They found no significant differences between left and right ear performance at or below an individual’s simple memory capacity.
However, when the item lists went above an individual’s memory span, participants’ performance improved by an average of 8% - up to 40% for some people - with the right ear.
Dr Sophie Scott, professor of cognitive science at UCL, who was not involved in the research but will this year deliver the Royal Institution’s Christmas speech on language processing, said: “If you hear through your right ear, you process it on the left side of the brain, which is faster and makes it easier to access the linguistic information.
“You do not have to code it or move it around between different parts of the brain.
“For 97% of people, it is easier to turn your right ear when having a conversation against background noise.”
The study follows an Italian study from 2009 which found people are more likely to perform a task when the request was received in their right ear. - Daily Mail