The Effect of Light And Darkness Stimuli on Listening Comprehension

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It has been common knowledge for a number of years that when one of the senses is dulled, the other senses often attempt to compensate for the loss.  The coordination between areas of sensory perception often substitutes one perceptual type for another, when loss or diminished capacity occurs in one.  Since the mode of visual perception is believed to be dominant, the auditory mode seems to vary depending on the characteristic of the visual stimulus. Auditory perception, when paired with a visual stimulus, increased if that stimulus was of a lower quality than the auditory stimulus. When the subjects were presented with a lower quality auditory stimulus than the visual stimulus, the quality perception of the auditory display decreased, with over half of one group feeling that they were mentally overloaded when having to rate both auditory and visual displays simultaneously. (Storms; Zyda 2000) 

 Some examples of one sense compensating for the loss or non-use of another can be seen in circumstances such as when the blind have an exceptional sense of hearing and touch, when people hear things more intently in darkness, or when individuals concentrate better with their eyes closed.  Another example of this is listening to music in the dark at bedtime.  The beneficial effect of peaceful mood music has been noted by Michael A. Forester in his article Auditory Perception and Sound as Event.  He continues to say that insomnia sufferers appreciate the usefulness of listening to soft music or a low-key radio talk show in order to help them settle down to sleep.

The rhythmic structure of speech helps us to process spoken language considerably.  When we listen to these soothing sounds in darkness as we might listen to radio, the sound of the voices and music are more vivid and we usually remember the content more clearly than when distracted by visual stimuli.  Where dependence on the visual stimuli within a conversational context is reduced, the connection between the imagined perceptions should come become prominent (Forester).  We see with our hearts and minds rather than with our eyes.  We must learn to convert passive hearing, which possibly brings confusion into relationships, into active listening, which involves of course retention, interpretation and reliance on short-term memory (Forester).

Some experts use sound to heal and alter our conscious awareness (Virato).  One study indicated that the sounds we generated ourselves can change the way our body and consciousness organizes its reactions to our environment.  Sounds such as prayer, playing an instrument, a mother’s lullaby, or the release of emotions benefit our psychological well-being.  Part of the healing process is the emotional release that happens when we listen to ourselves, and to the sounds of those around us.  People receive the energy of sound vibrations through their senses, not only the auditory aspects of the sound itself.  We receive sound vibrations through out our whole bodies (Virato).

The ability to listen is a not a new source of healing, though it may be a new science.   The most important aspect of this healing process is how we set up a listening environment. When people understand the various ways in which sound enters the body; i.e. the position of the body, eyes open, eyes closed, the time of day, as well as auditory evaluation, then they are more in tune to the healing involved in listening processes (Virato).  It is the context surrounding us that creates our listening mood and sustains our emotional willingness to hear.  Calming sounds and voices can be beneficial to the healing process, whether the healing taking place is emotional, mental, or physical.  People often hear what may be completely absent in the auditory input, primarily because a good portion of what people understand is based on the context in which the speech takes place. (Noblitt). 

It is not that the speech itself has meaning, but that it stimulates meaning in the listener’s mind’s eye.  We have a pre-recognition stage of responding to verbal stimuli. The effects of this pre-recognized contextual information involves relationships among the internal notions of the words not yet fully comprehended (Eliot 1995).   James S. Noblitt in his article on Cognitive Approaches to Listening Comprehension states that most of what we recall is not retrieved from memories of auditory stimuli, but it is reconstructed from the preconceived notions that we have created from what we have observed and that is consistent with what we have learned.  People share great amounts of knowledge from which they assume significance when they are listening.  Memory is a constructive process in which individuals reinterpret the input according to their own personal knowledge and biases.  We rely on our store of internal images to process what we hear (Noblitt 1995). 

Forester asserts that even though we hear sounds as events, at the same time many of the sounds we hear call up significant memories, relative associations, and particular images of events in the past.  He believes that there is a relationship between specific sounds we hear and their meaningfulness in our lives.  He states that, “We perceive sound as event and through sound we can relive earlier associations and feelings, good, bad, and indifferent.”

Listening comprehension is a typical ‘practice makes perfect’ responsibility of the listener.  Listeners need to learn the practice of listening for key elements around which to construct meaning, while also moving along with the flow of discourse.  Forester makes the observation though, that listening is not the same thing as hearing in a passive way. He states that listening implies active attentiveness to auditory information and that the very act of listening draws attention to our desire to understand. 

Forester also notes that language is the first sound in which humans attempt to making meaning.  He recognizes that from a child’s point of view, the child hears sounds, not words.  The child must learn which sounds to pay attention to and which sounds to ignore.  He explains that as the child grows she must learn under what conditions making a particular sound, will lead those responding to her vocalizations to understand them as intentional communicative acts.  Forester argues that our emotional development is rooted in the context of the sounds we have sensitized ourselves to and that if we are deprived of the interactions of early communications it could lead to a deprivation of perceptions and emotions, which can in turn become future linguistic problems and possibly contribute to later psychopathological behaviors. 

The ability to communicate effectively with others around us is of the highest importance from our infancy on.  Exploring better ways to understand the messages of others around us is a task each of us must strive to comprehend.  A message’s meaning is not limited to its words or the way it is presented, but rather develops from these in the relationship between the message bearer and its receptor (Globegate).  The goal of most people is to come away from a communicative experience with a general idea of the meaning intended by the conversation. 

We must take into account attention blocking patterns that many people fall into the habit of.  With our selective attention, we tune in on just a few of the many sensory messages bombarding us, while excluding less important stimulations (Notebook, 1993).  We sometimes consciously or unconsciously tune out what we don’t want to hear.  The various senses usually respond more efficiently to changes in stimulation or new stimuli, so when no change from the norm is present, much of the time we do not consciously notice it (Noblitt).    When we hear something of a rhythmic or repetitive nature, we simply may not pay attention.  We only use our full processing capacity when the situation is significant to us.  Without the efficiency of this kind of information processing, we would easily be overwhelmed by the input of the diverse stimuli around us.  (Noblitt).

As in the earlier study noted, people are often over-stimulated when visual and verbal stimuli are simultaneously experienced, while all the information may not be completely processed. Statistics notably show that when people are bombarded with too much stimuli, they tend to tune out something. With our selective attention, we tune in on just a few of the many sensory stimuli barraging us, while not including lesser stimulations (Notebook, 1993).But where dependence on the visual stimuli in a conversation is reduced, other perceptions should come become more prominent (Forester).  When people convert passive hearing, which often occurs when visual distractions are present, into active listening then those relationships are usually better for it.  When couples are distracted by the negative facial expressions of one another, or simply just the normal distractions in a lighted room, then active listening is not always possible.  But if they were to make it a point to converse with each other a few minutes before going to sleep each night in that darkened atmosphere of the bedroom, then this researcher believes the partners would listen to each other better than they would if they held those same conversations in that same room with the lights on.  People often hear what may be completely absent in the conversation, because much of what people understand is based on the context in which it takes place. (Noblitt).  When couples shut out other distractions and listen attentively to their partner, the emotional exchange of just knowing they are there for you is a great benefit to that relationship. 

Not only are we better off when we know someone is truly listening to us, but we are psychologically better off to experience the emotional release that happens when we listen to ourselves (Virato). Just the fact of being able to put your thoughts together in a logical sequence and make sense out of them when you are not so distracted by daily routines is healing in itself.     The information brought together in this project could be developed into further study, which may help determine if couples who hold conversations in the dark would be more affective listening partners, without the visual stimuli of their partner’s facial expressions, body language, and other distractions.  A long-term study could show the overall benefits to a partnership, if this continues to be a regular practice in their nightly routine.  If marriages could be shown to benefit from this practice, counselors might make it a recommendation to uncommunicative couples to boost their communication skills.


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