Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Humans are Deaf to Unexpected Sounds

From Flickr
One of the coping mechanisms our brain uses to deal with a word full of noise is to identify what's background noise and what's important to listen to. But this same mechanism can also leave us unable to hear unexpected sounds - sort of an auditory version of an optical illusion.

This article from io9 explains a recent study in which people listened to background noise ("an orderly set of new sounds that were somewhere between a tenor saxophone and a French horn") while playing with Etch-a-Sketches, for seven minutes. They were then asked to identify which of three sounds were different. If the sounds didn't fit the expected pattern, the subjects could not figure it out.

I think this is very interesting. So often people think of hearing as being in the ears - but most of our hearing is done in our brains using feedback from our ears.

The study can be found here.

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