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Inattentional Deafness

December 16, 2015

Scientists identify the neural underpinnings of inattentional deafness: when visually demanding tasks temporarily turn off the ability to hear.



A participant in a magnetoencephalography (MEG) scanner while researcher Nilli Lavie looks on. (Nilli Lavie and Jake Fairnie)


When vision blocks hearing.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

If you’ve ever tried to engage a co-worker in conversation while he or she was hard at work on the computer, you may have noticed it was pretty one-sided. That’s not your co-worker’s fault, according to new study in the Journal of Neuroscience. It’s a case of inattentional deafness.

NILLI LAVIE (University College London):

This is simply the result of the brain failing to register the sound when people are paying attention to a task that is really demanding.


That’s University College London cognitive neuroscientist Nilli Lavie. She and her colleagues scanned volunteers’ brains as they completed a visual task while listening to sounds. As the task’s difficulty increased, the brain’s auditory cortex stopped detecting the sounds.


It appears that we don’t have the ability to multitask as much as we wish to.


I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

The research was conducted by Katharine Molloy, Timothy D. Griffiths, Maria Chait, and Nilli Lavie. Read the study here. The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust. To learn more about this research, visit the lab websites of Nilli Lavie and Maria Chait.