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‘Gorilla man’ goes unheard

Tracking a conversation can block out peripheral sounds

3:25pm, November 7, 2011

SEATTLE — Good listeners inadvertently turn a deaf ear to unexpected sounds. Attending closely to a conversation creates a situation in which unusual, clearly audible background utterances frequently go totally unheard, says psychologist Polly Dalton of the University of London.

This finding takes the famous “invisible gorilla effect” from vision into the realm of hearing, Dalton reported November 4 at the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society. More than a decade ago, researchers observed that about half of volunteers watching a videotape of people passing a basketball fail to see a gorilla-suited person walking through the group if the viewers are instructed to focus on counting how many times the ball gets passed (SN: 5/21/11, p. 16).

An ability to prioritize what sounds and sights to monitor supports daily activities, but it can also wipe out perceptions of obvious peripheral happenings. &ld

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