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Neurology Now:
doi: 10.1097/01.NNN.0000429063.17550.01
Departments: The Waiting Room

Neurobics: The Cocktail Party Effect

Kim, Scott

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Listening, as with all perception, is an active process. We don't pay equal attention to all the sounds in our environment. Instead, we actively focus on what we are interested in and largely ignore everything else. For instance, if you are talking to someone at a crowded party, you focus on what the other person is saying and ignore other speakers. You can also deliberately shift your attention to focus on another conversation. But you can't pay attention to two conversations at the same time. Psychologists call this sort of selective attention the cocktail-party effect.

Here is a visual version of the cocktail-party effect. In each illustration below I've superimposed two wise quotations. Can you shift your attention to read one quotation, then other?

These puzzles were adapted from the book The Playful Brain: The Surprising Science of How Puzzles Improve Your Mind, by Richard Restak and Scott Kim (Riverhead Books 2010). For more information, visit theplayfulbrain.com.—Scott Kim, scott@scottkim.com

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