Science Questions

Why, when I'm concentrating on one sound, can I block out others?

Sun, 14th Oct 2012

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Question

Andrew, from Norwich asked:

Why is it when I'm concentrating on one sound, say Iím watching the television and my wife says something to me, even though sheís closer, I donít tend to hear what sheís saying.

Answer

Chris -   How convenient.  They do say that the secret to a long and fruitful and happy marriage is a blind wife and a deaf husband.  Is that true, Owen?

Owen -   [laughter]

Chris -   So, why does this happen?

Owen -   Well, there's many number of reasons, sounds that are coming from different angles can be easier to hear or to sort of tell apart from one another, but in this sort of a situation, Iíd have to go with, not a physiological explanation, not an acoustic explanation, but an attentional mechanism.  Itís really a question of, you have decided that this is what you're listening to and your forebrain is pretty much powering you through and thatís what you're paying attention to, distractions be damned.

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