Discriminative Listening (+7 Other Types)

In this brief guide, we will look at Discriminative listening as well as 7 other types of listening. We will also take a look at discriminative listening activities.

What is Discriminative Listening?

Discriminative listening is the most basic type of listening, and in this type of listening the listener differentiates between the different sounds they are listening to, and according to most research, we develop this skill as infants.

When someone does not have the ability to listen well enough or to understand the differences, they cannot make sense of the meaning, and therefore this makes the subsequent evaluation of the subject more difficult.

The fact that we learn the skill of discriminative listening so early on is evidenced in the fact that even babies and toddlers can differentiate between the sounds of their mother’s and father’s voices and that of others around them, which proves the basic and fundamental nature of discriminative listening.

A key aspect of discriminative listening is how dependent it can be on social, cultural and linguistic features or characteristics of the listener, because this skill requires the person to be able to pick up even minor inflections or nonverbal cues that may be present in the dialogue.

That discriminative listening is so based in cultural or linguistic aspects makes it more understandable that people often find it difficult to understand the sounds of a language that they have learned to the fullest extent, but the sounds of the native speaker speaking the same language might still pose difficulty to the listener.

Discriminative Listening makes it clear that simply understanding the language and syntax may not be enough to be able to understand the spoken aspects of speech, and there are many other layers involved in speaking and listening. 

The particular inflections and other lilts in speech which may often make it hard for a discriminative listener to listen in this way, is a phenomenon called Prosody, and this is a very often studied aspect in linguistics because of how much it influences our understanding of what has been spoken.

An example of discriminative listening is when someone tries to listen to various soundtracks and tries to figure out which one they have heard before and which they have not.

Another example of discriminative listening may be when someone tries to tell the difference between the different languages they are hearing.

7 Other Types of Listening (With Examples)

Apart from discriminative listening, there are many other types of listening as well, and depending on the context they may all be quite important.

These other types of listening are discussed with examples below.

Biased listening

Biased listening is an unhealthy type of listening and it happens when someone hears only what they want to hear on the basis of biases or stereotypes they may have either about the listener or the subject, and there may be a high degree of misinterpretation of the message that is being conveyed.

Biased listening may often be rooted in biases like self-serving bias or attribution biases, which makes it very hard for any speaker to convey what they want to, because the biased individual simply may not listen.

An example of biased listening might be when someone listens to a person they don’t like, and  the listener writes them off as being incompetent despite what they may be saying about why they failed on a task, because they have already made up their mind about the person’s skills.

Another example of biased listening may be found when people who have staunch political views discuss their beliefs with someone from another belief system, they may often not listen to the good points being made because they are just too used to their own beliefs and biases.

The above example of biased listening is why it is extremely hard to have constructive discourse when someone is engaging in biased listening, and this must be fixed for a healthy discussion.

Evaluative listening

In evaluative listening, the listener makes judgments about what the other person is saying, and this type of listening involves listening in an active manner where the person particularly seeks to assess, or evaluate, the truth of what is being said. 

In this type of listening one might also judge what is being said against their values, but in a different way than biased listening, and they may also assess them as good or bad, worthy or unworthy.

The difference between evaluative and biased listening is that while in evaluative listening the person still at least listens to the other person and rationally analyzes what has been said, it may not be the case in biased listening.

Typically, evaluative listening may be found in circumstances when the Jury listens to the cases lawyers are making.

Evaluative listening may also be called judgmental or interpretive listening.

Appreciative listening

Appreciative listening involves the search on the part of the listener for certain information or features of the message that they will appreciate, for example something that helps them meet their needs and goals, which may also involve pleasure.

This means that appreciative listening may be done in any situation where the person wants to appreciate the contents of what they are hearing, examples of which may be listening to good music, poetry or maybe even the stirring words of a great leader.

Critical Listening

Critical listening is done for the specific purpose of criticizing, or scrutinizing the subject, and figuring out what is wrong with it that may be fixed, and it involves a careful analysis of the sub-components of a subject that is being heard.

A music teacher listening to their student play an instrument or sing might engage in critical listening, or even someone who is trying to tune their instrument.

Similarly, teachers asking questions of students are also using critical listening because their main goal is to figure out what the student does not know or does not know well enough. 

Usually people may be engaged in critical listening when their goal is to evaluate or scrutinize what is being said to the critical listener.

Critical listening may be considered an example of active listening but it may often require more active behavior than other subtypes like informational listening and it may also make use of some problem-solving techniques or some kind of decision-making directed at fixing what is wrong with what the person just heard.

One might also think of critical listening as using the same processes as critical reading as both involve analyses of the information that has been received and making decisions based on that.

Comprehensive Listening

Comprehensive Listening is the process of listening to someone at the same time as understanding what is being said, and usually this is done when the listener wants to spend less time making sense of what was said so they try to understand what is being said at the same time as hearing it.

Comprehensive listening involves engaging the structures of the brain that are involved in listening, as well as the ones involved in making memories, assigning affect to stimulus, comprehension and planning, and so on, which shows the extensive reach of comprehensive listening.

Apart from using the different parts of the cerebral cortex, comprehensive listening also requires the person to have good communication and vocabulary skills, because the linguistic aspects of speech are an important part of comprehensive listening.

However, despite the use of language in comprehensive listening, it is different from discriminative listening because it does not depend so heavily on the subtle differences of sound and inflections.

Another key feature of comprehensive listening is that it is in fact important to all the other subtypes of listening, and it is usually found in almost all active listening methods, because our brains are always working to figure out what they are hearing.

A characteristic that may often complicate comprehensive listening is the fact that when two different people listening to the same thing may understand the message in two different ways, because again, our brains work differently and our different experiences can often dictate how we think of certain things.  

Comprehensive listening examples may include listening to a lecture or paying attention to a business meeting.

Therapeutic or Empathic Listening

Therapeutic or Empathic listening is done when someone wants to understand feelings and emotions of the other person, or even their thoughts and experiences, and instead of sympathizing with them or feeling bad for them, one tries to put themselves into someone’s shoes and think about things from their perspective.

A therapist usually uses this type of listening the most, as their job is to provide the client with unconditional positive regard, which is something that may only come with empathic listening. 

Empathy as a concept itself involves the process of deeply connecting with another person and it is also not the same as sympathy, because it involves more things than being compassionate or feeling sorry for somebody, it involves a realization and understanding of another person’s point of view. 

This type of listening is a skill that most people should have, which is why everyone should try practicing empathic listening.

Analytical Listening

Analytical listening is usually used when someone is listening to an audio composition or piece of music, or a sound collection in which the meaning of the sounds are interpreted as they are heard, and like critical listening the person may focus on the smaller components, but they will usually not scrutinize them.

Analytical listening is an active process of listening rather than the more passive type of passive listening where the listener merely pays attention to the sounds stimuli that is being provided to them.

An example of analytical listening might be when music producers who look for talent in bars or college festivals, as they have to learn to listen analytically and carefully so that they may be able to identify the timbres and textures of a voice.

A music producer trying to articulate their strategies for the singer to elicit the best vocal performance and thinking about the musical arrangements may also be engaging in analytical listening. 

Discriminative Listening Activities

Here are some discriminative listening activities to help you along learning this important skill:

Call out two words and try to determine if they are the same or different, and while for children the words may be simple like bat/ bat, bat/bet, an adult might try words from different languages to make it more challenging.

You may also practice rhyming words to hone discriminative listening skills by calling out a few rhyming words, such as“hat, bat, rat, cat, and so on”, and difficult words or words from a different language may be used for adults.

Listen to a story in a language you don’t know very well and try to tell what the problem is. 

Listen to new genres of music and try to pick up notes you have not heard much before.

You can also try softwares that changes the quality or aspects of a song to discriminate between the various changes that occur in a song with just a few note changes.


In this brief guide, we looked at Discriminative listening as well as 7 other types of listening. We also took a look at discriminative listening activities.

Discriminative listening is a great skill to have whether you are a student or a worker, and no matter what your area of expertise is, as being a good listener is the first step to acquiring knowledge.

The Greek philosopher Epictetus once said “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak”, and this quote implies just how important listening is, and Discriminative Listening probably even more so.

If you have any questions or comments about Discriminative listening, please feel free to reach out to us at any time.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Discriminative Listening

What are the 4 different types of listening?

The four types of listening are appreciative, empathic, comprehensive, and critical.

There are also other types of listening based on various parameters like where the listening style may be used, but generally these 4 types tend to fit into a lot of categories.

What are the 5 types of listening?

Given below are 5 types of listening or listening styles:

Appreciative listening. 
Empathic listening
Discerning listening. 
Comprehensive listening. 
Evaluative listening.

What is an example of selective listening?

An example of selective listening may be when you are watching tv and someone started talking to you, and in such a scenario, you may not hear much of what they said to you.

In selective listening the brain may receive two sound stimuli but it may only focus on the one that it relates to or knows about more, which means that often the things that we like or want to enjoy get focused on while the other things tend to fade into the background.

What are the 3 A’s of active listening?

The three A’s of active listening are:

Attention: Paying attention to the listener is key

Assess: Trying to make sense of what has been said to you is also necessary

Acknowledge: In active listening, it is equally as important to let the speaker know that they have been heard, which is why we acknowledge what has been said to us.

What is listening well called?

Listening well may be known as Active listening.

Listening well is a concept that may be used in important areas of communication like counseling, training, and solving disputes or conflicts and in this kind of listening the listener needs to fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said. 







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