The NIH News in Health
skip navigation
Health Capsules
September 2007
(PDF—665 kb)  
Can You Listen to Two Things at Once?

Can you listen to a phone message in one ear while a friend talks into the other? If you can, it may be thanks to your genes, scientists report.

Your brain analyzes the sounds you hear so you can make sense of them. This “auditory processing” helps you decide whether a sound is a voice you should listen to or background noise you can safely ignore. Abnormal auditory processing affects up to 7% of school-age children in the U.S. The disorders also affect older adults and stroke victims.

To see if auditory-processing skills can be inherited, NIH researchers studied nearly 200 pairs of twins, ages 12-50. The pairs included both identical twins, who share all of their genes, and fraternal twins, who share about half of their genes. If auditory processing is purely genetic, identical twins will be alike nearly 100% of the time, but fraternal twins won’t.

The twins took several tests that assess auditory-processing skills. For example, they were asked to name 2 different short words or word fragments that were played at the same time, one to the right ear and one to the left.

The results showed that this dual-listening ability is largely inherited. Up to 73% of the variation in this type of listening was due to differences in genes, the researchers say.

These findings will help researchers better understand how the brain processes sound. They may also help to uncover new clues to the causes of auditory-processing disorders.

Definitions iconDefinition

Stretches of DNA, a substance you inherit from your parents.

Links iconWeb Sites /
  Mourning the Death of a Spouse

After a spouse dies, you may feel your entire world has changed.  When you are in mourning, you may feel shock, sorrow, anger, fear and even guilt.  You may have trouble doing everyday activities like sleeping and eating.  These feelings are normal.  There is no right or wrong way to mourn.

To help older people cope with grief, NIH’s National Institute on Aging has issued a new publication called Mourning the Death of a Spouse.  This easy-to-read brochure provides a list of resources and offers useful and practical information, including the symptoms of grieving, tips for taking charge of your life and a summary of important legal and business matters.  For free copies, call 1-800-222-2225 toll-free or visit

Wise Choices iconWise Choices
Coping with Grief After a Spouse Dies

  • Take care of yourself. Eat right, exercise and get enough sleep.
  • Don’t think you have to handle your grief alone. Talk to friends and family, join a grief support group or consider short-term talk therapy.
  • Try not to make any major changes—like moving or changing jobs—right away.
  • See your doctor if you’re having trouble taking care of everyday activities.
  • Remember that mourning takes time. It’s common to have rollercoaster emotions for a while.

Links iconFeatured Web Site

Cancer Risk: Understanding the Puzzle

Do you know the factors that affect your cancer risk?  This interactive site will help you analyze what you see or hear in the news and make informed decisions about lowering your cancer risk.  Use online tools to explore your risk for different types of cancer.

From NIH’s National Cancer Institute.

to top    
NIH logo National Institutes of Health (NIH)
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, Maryland 20892
DHHS logo Department of Health and
Human Services
  Office of Communications and
Public Liaison