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

14 October 2012

Question

Why is it when I'm concentrating on one sound, say I’m watching the television and my wife says something to me, even though she’s closer, I don’t tend to hear what she’s 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, I'd have to go with, not a physiological explanation, not an acoustic explanation, but an attentional mechanism. It's 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 that's what you're paying attention to, distractions be damned.

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