“Ralph Nichols, a professor of rhetoric at the University of Minnesota, had teachers stop what they were doing in mid-class and ask kids to describe what the teachers were talking about.
Surprisingly, 90 percent of first- and second-graders gave the right answer. But as kids got older, results plummeted. By junior high, only 44 percent answered correctly; about one in four high school kids succeeded.
The truth is, the older people get, the more their listening comprehension sinks. Making matters worse, studies show that people wildly overestimate how good they are at listening.
Plenty of studies examine this phenomenon. While listening is the core of most of our communications—the average adult listens nearly twice as much as he or she talks—most people stink at it. Here’s one typical result. Test takers were asked to sit through a ten-minute oral presentation and, later, to describe its content. Half of adults can’t do it even moments after the talk, and forty-eight hours later, fully 75 percent of listeners can’t recall the subject matter.
Here’s the problem: The human brain has the capacity to digest as much as 400 words per minute of information. But even a speaker from New York City talks at around 125 words per minute. That means three-quarters of your brain could very well be doing something else while someone is speaking to you.
This helps explain why little children are—or can be, anyway—better listeners than adults. Their brains are less developed, so they are much more likely to be completely engrossed in a topic. Adults, with all that extra brain power, are much more easily distracted.”