Whether we’re at a busy restaurant, birthday party, or on public transport, sometimes our brain needs to focus on a single speaker amongst a multitude of background noise. A group of scientists from the University of Rochester Medical Center, wanted to see exactly how our incredible organ processes these stimuli.
The research team, led by Edmund Lalor, Ph.D., looked at exactly how our brains focus on the information from one speaker, whilst blocking out the background. Willing participants were asked to listen to two stories being told at once, and hold their attention on only one. EEG brainwave recordings were taken to try and unlock the neuronal activity occurring.
This novel study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, managed to track exactly which story was being followed and how our brain can switch between. The research group also discovered linguistic properties important in deciphering this code, including pitch and accent.
“Our findings suggest that the acoustics of both the attended story and the unattended or ignored story are processed similarly,” Lalor discussed. “But we found there was a clear distinction between what happened next in the brain.”
He continued: “Our research showed that — almost in real time — we could decode signals to accurately figure out who you were paying attention to.”
The human brain is still largely a complex mystery to the scientific community. The more information we have about how it operates, the better equipped we are to understand how to improve its functioning and prevent disease.
Source study: The Journal of Neuroscience – Attention differentially affects acoustic and phonetic feature encoding in a multispeaker environment