Who knew that our behavior at cocktail parties could teach us a lesson about the brain?
The Wall Street Journal last week did a story on research that was conducted by the University of California in San Francisco, a study that was published recently in the Nature journal. It’s all about the so-called “cocktail-party effect,” or the brain’s ability to just focus on one conversation in a room filled with chattering folks.
The research determined that the auditory cortex, which is located behind the ear, essentially turns up some sounds and turns others down, so that only one signal goes to the part of the higher part of the brain, The Journal reported.
The bottom line is that the brain is limited to so-called “selective attention,” and can only concentrate on one thing at a time. That’s why, according to the story, distracted driving poses such a safety hazard — and why a hands-free cellphone doesn’t solve the problem.
The Journal cites research from the University of Utah that found that a driver talking on a hands-free cellphone is as distracted as someone with a hand-held phone. “It is the conversation, not the device, that is draining their attention,” The Journal wrote.
The article also cites a fascinating study, the “invisible Gorilla Experiment.” In that research at Harvard, participants were told to watch a video and keep track of how often players dressed in white passed the ball.
After, they were asked several questions, including whether they had seen the gorilla. Only about half of the participants had noticed that a man in a gorilla suit had walked through the scene, according to The Journal. Your brain can only focus its attention on some things, not everything.