May 29, 2014
Here’s a reason you should always bring your partner to a cocktail party: As the ’80s hair band music pumps and the voices in the background all sound like indistinguishable blah blah blah — with your loved one there, you’ll be able to understand what at least one person is saying.
Neuroscientists have long known about the “cocktail party problem” — where a roomful of talking people make picking up the words of one particular person difficult for anybody. And it gets even worse in middle age.
A Canadian researcher shed some new light on the condition at a meeting of neuroscientists this week, highlighting a touch of good news about the accuracy of auditory perception as we age. Yes, we are all going to have less acute hearing when we get older, but the sound of a familiar voice can help compensate for that loss.
At the Canadian Association for Neuroscience annual meeting in Montreal, Queen’s University scientist Ingrid Johnsrude said despite reduced hearing accuracy shared by all of us as we age, the voices of long-time spouses are still so distinct that people can pick them out of a crowd.