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How to hear above the cocktail party din

Repeating a sound may allow listeners to focus in on it

3:46pm, January 3, 2011
To try your hand at picking out a sound, click here.

It’s the bane (or savior) of every holiday cocktail party: the constant background buzz that makes it hard to hear the guy from accounting droning on. Now, researchers have taken a step toward understanding how people’s hearing systems pick out one sound among many.

The key is repetition, according to experiments reported the week of January 3 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Hearing a sound again and again in different auditory mixtures allows a person to separate it out and recognize it, the work suggests.

“Repetition alone may be a cue for sound segregation,” says Christophe Micheyl, a researcher in auditory perception and cognition at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who was not involved in the study.

Scientists have long wondered how the hearing system can recognize individual sounds when natural env

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