It is possible to concentrate so much on your mobile device and not hear another person come in or speaking to you – and this phenomenon formed the basis of a research carried out by scientists from the University College London (UCL), ABC News reports.
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Publishing their finding in the Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers established that the wiring of the human brain does not allow humans to concentrate equally on two or more separate tasks – and when people try to multitask on tasks that require equal amount of attention, the brain is forced to prioritize attention to the task that is visually in progress and less attention to the task based on hearing.
The researchers recruited 14 people into the study and tasked them into trying to focus on a number of visual tasks while music played in the background. The brain activity of the participants was monitored as they worked while listening to the sound.
The investigators found that brain activity was reduced for sound during visual tasks that are very demanding; and the researchers ultimately discovered that the participants did not actually perceive the sound, rather than ignoring it.
“In order to hear, we don’t just need our ears to be operating; we need our brain to respond to the sound,” said study author Nilli Lavie, professor of psychology and brain sciences at the University College London. “If our brain doesn’t respond because our attention is fully taken by another task, then we experience deafness.”
Lavie added that people do not actually hear sounds when they concentrate on visual tasks that require strong attention, and this is largely because the brain signal related to hearing becomes subdued to enhance the signal needed for the demanding visual tasks.
“We can fail to notice things that are right in front of us when we are focusing our attention on other things,” said Daniel Simons, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois. “When you are distracted by something visual, you may not hear something that is auditory.”
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While there is very little anyone can do to boost attention to visual tasks and sound at the same level of intensity, people in certain careers need to exercise extra caution while working so that the attention put into visual needs does not deaden them totally to audio cues.