‘Selectively deaf’ husbands might have a point’
‘Selectively deaf’ husbands might have a point By Stephen Adams, Medical Correspondent – The Telegraph, UK, May 27, 2011″Did you hear me?” It’s a question that many an exasperated wife has asked her husband.
The question is usually delivered in ironic fashion, because how could he not have heard her request to unload the dishwasher? Does the newspaper really rustle that loudly?
But now men have an answer to the charge that they are ‘selectively deaf’.
For scientists at University College London have discovered that people really can “tune out” the sounds around them to concentrate on the matter at hand.
They took over 100 adults and asked them to perform a series of tasks on a computer, some of them easy and some difficult.
They were also given headphones and told these were to aid their concentration.
However, occasionally a tone was played unexpectedly. As soon as it was, the experiment was paused and they were asked if they had heard it.
Prof Nilli Lavie and PhD student James Macdonald found that during easy tasks – such as telling if there was a colour difference between two crossed bars on screen – eight out of 10 recalled hearing the tone.
But during difficult tasks – such as gauging which of the two bars was longer – the numbers were reversed, and eight out of 10 missed it.
Prof Lavie, from the university’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, described the phenomenon as “inattentional deafness”.
She said it was “a common everyday experience”.
“For example, when engrossed in a good book or even a captivating newspaper article we may fail to hear the train driver’s announcement and miss our stop.”
The researchers did not look at whether men or women were more prone to it.
“From my own personal experience, I suspect that men are more susceptible,” laughed Prof Lavie, before adding: “But that’s not based on any scientific knowledge.”
The study, published today (FRI) in the journal Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, was funded by the Wellcome Trust.
Thanks to Bob MacPherson
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