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Selective hearing

I’ve often been accused of having selective hearing, particularly when it comes to being asked to do things I’d rather not do.

Scientists have now explained how selective hearing works – the real kind though, not the type I practice! Selective hearing is the way in which people can tune out a noisy environment and just listen to a single speaker – your date in a crowded bar, for example. It’s also known as the “cocktail party effect”.

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) worked with three patients who were undergoing brain surgery for severe epilepsy. They took brain recordings and decoded them using an algorithm, which showed that the cortex has the ability to reflect just what we really want or need to hear.

The findings help scientists understand how the human brain processes language, which could have some major effects for other research.

An average person can walk into a noisy room and have a private conversation with relative ease — as if all the other voices in the room were muted. In fact, said Mesgarani, an engineer with a background in automatic speech recognition research, the engineering required to separate a single intelligible voice from a cacophony of speakers and background noise is a surprisingly difficult problem.

Speech recognition, he said, is “something that humans are remarkably good at, but it turns out that machine emulation of this human ability is extremely difficult.” (Source: Science Daily)