Attention Tunes the Mind’s Ear

Attention Tunes the Mind’s Ear

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The brain’s power to focus can make a single voice seem like the only sound in a room full of chatter, a new study shows. The results help explain how people can pick out a speaker from a jumbled stream of incoming sounds. A deeper understanding of this feat could help scientists better treat people who can’t sort out sound signals effectively, an ability that can decline with age.

Scientists already knew that attention influences perception, but the new results demonstrate the phenomenon in a clear way in the human brain. The results are interesting, but offer only a snapshot of what’s going on in the brain, says neuroscientist David Poeppel of New York University, adding that more work is needed to capture the richness of human acoustical behavior. Other experiments have shown that people can still process acoustic information even without paying attention.

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