New study reveals that computers cause temporary deafness. When you talk to someone concentrated on the screen of their electronic device and they’re not answering you should know that they are not ignoring you but actually they are not even hearing your voice.
The small-scale study done by researchers from the UCL and funded by Wellcome Trust has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Researchers have studied the brain scans of 13 volunteers to find that when they were performing a visual task which required high concentration their brain couldn’t respond to sounds as it was normally doing. The harder was the visual task they needed to perform, the harder was for the subjects to detect clearly audible sounds.
Brain scans helped scientists determine that when not hearing the sounds, volunteers were not ignoring or filtering them but they were really not hearing them – their brain did not registered any activity related to hearing the sounds.
This temporary phenomenon is called ‘inattentional deafness’ and describes the situation when people are so concentrated on visual tasks that they fail noticing sounds. It is not for the first time when scientists have observed the phenomenon but until now they haven’t been able to determine that effects are caused by brain mechanisms of auditory processing, by measuring brain activity in real-time using magnetoencephalography (MEG).
Nilli Lavie, Professor at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL explains that inattentional deafness is a common life experience that can now be scientifically explained. It shows that when someone is concentrating on a game, a movie, a book or even on the screen of their cellphone, they are not simply ignoring everything around them but they actually can’t hear anything else. It also explains why people reading or concentrating on their phone might miss when their bus stop is announced.
However, the inatentionall deafness is not always so benign and even funny. It has serious implications for example for surgeons who might be so focused on their work that they might not hear the beeping of the monitors.
It can also endanger the lives of drivers who are concentrating on their GPS directions but also those of pedestrians who are texting while walking and would probably not hear a bike’s bell or a car’s engine.
All these happen because the senses of hearing and vision share the same limited processing capacity so when one of them uses more of it, there might not be enough left for the other, which makes the brain unable to process it.
Nilli Lavie explains that operating ears are not enough for hearing; the brain also needs to respond to the sound.
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