By David Perlman, San Francisco Chronicle
Anyone who’s ever tried to hear someone speaking in a roomful of jabbering voices and clinking glasses knows the “cocktail party effect” – the ability to tune out all the noise and tune in only to the one whose conversation is important in the moment.
A neurosurgeon and an electrical engineer, both at UCSF, say they now understand how the cocktail party effect works, a finding that resolves a mystery that has plagued psychologists for more than a century.
In 1890, eminent psychologist William James puzzled over the mental problem he called “concentration of consciousness,” and neuroscientists have explored what they call “selective hearing” ever since.
The answer lies in the auditory cortex, the area of the brain that processes sound and contributes to our ability to hear, the UCSF researchers said.
Dr. Edward F. Chang, the neurosurgeon, and Nima Mesgarani, the electrical engineer, describe how they made their discovery in a report published Thursday in the journal Nature.