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The Cocktail Party Effect has nothing to do with food or drinks

Published on 13 August 2018|
1 min read

It is about your listening ability.
By Louise M, Carrybeans

Imagine that you are in a crowded bar.

There’s loud music playing in the background plus the clanking and clinking noises of plates and glasses.

Everyone is talking and there are people moving about.

Once in a while, you’ll hear waves of laughter coming from different directions.

You are standing in the middle of all the chaos and your friend is talking amidst all the noise.

Can you hear what your friend is saying?

Listening by filtering out the din of other sounds

The Cocktail Party Effect is the ability to focus our listening attention on a single talker among a mixture of conversations and background noises. According to PsycholoGenie, this is related to selective hearing and happens in virtually any environment. Although this might seem like a simple task, focused auditory attention is actually an extraordinary ability. Even when you are super engaged in a face-to-face conversation, you could still hear when someone calls your name in the background.

Most (not all) people are able to pick out one conversation from a multitude. We seem to be able to reject all but the one in which we have an interest in. (Eavesdroppers are especially good at this!) We are good at tuning in to one conversation over all the others but absorb very little information from those we reject.

So if you who have a tendency to zone out in class or during meetings and are hoping the information is still making its way into your head, you might want to think twice!

Credit: Gabriel Gurrola

The cocktail party phenomenon and your super-power

The first description of this event came from Colin Cherry, a British scientist, in the 1950’s. To study how people listen, Cherry had some participants undergo a variety of different listening tasks with headphones. He determined that they are able to interpret messages and even shift their attention from one conversation to another. What’s more, this intelligence can be trained.

So what this all means is that you tune in to what interests you but will gradually tune out if it gets boring (I’m sure you can relate). And if you can zoom in on what your friend is saying in that noisy bar and hold a conversation, consider that as one of your super-powers!

Featured Image Credit: Vecteezy

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