Ask Tip Sheet

When we "strain to hear" a faint sound, are we really straining anything?

Nancy Pfeffer, Long Beach, Calif.

Sounds like a mind-boggler. We asked Dr. Joseph B. Roberson of the California Ear Institute to hear your question out. "You are not straining anything in the ear," he says. "But you are stopping other cognitive ability to focus on the sound." In other words, mental juices are needed to concentrate, so the strain is put on the brain. If you're a telemarketer--or a star TIP SHEET reporter--trying to hear distant voices on the phone all day, you might get tired faster. Um, boss, here's another reason we need a nap room.