Ever wonder why someone looking at smart phone appears to be ignoring you? You know they can hear you, but it takes them 2 minutes to respond to a question. Even when they do respond it’s “Huh?”, “What was that?” and it is sooo annoyingly rude.
They aren’t ignoring you, they are momentarily “deaf”
Attention and Hearing
It sounds like an excuse, but the smart phone user you are trying to chat with has a temporary condition called "inattentional deafness". The term was coined during a 2015 research study conducted at University College London.
Published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the research showed how the brain shares its limited resources between visual and auditory processing. Both the visual and auditory cortex take up a lot of processing power. To ensure we focus on the important task the brain divides its attention (task processing) based on what we think should have priority. So, if we are performing a highly visual task such as playing a game on our phones, we shift most of our attention to the visual task leaving only a little processing power left to decipher the sounds we are hearing.
Brain function, not ear function, is responsible for "inattentional deafness".
We Have All Experienced This
Do you ever remember driving to a location you have never been to before and while you are looking for the address on the building, you turn down the radio? It’s funny now that you think about it, but we all do it! Lowering the radio’s volume to improve your ability to see the address you are looking makes no sense. But, it works. Lowering the volume reduces the amount of attention your brain devotes to understanding the music and shifts that attention to the more important task of visual processing needed to find your destination.
Is Multi-Tasking a Myth?
Co-author of the study, Dr. Maria Chait, from the UCL Ear Institute says the results of the study suggests humans are unable to multi-task in many circumstances. This is just the opposite of the current thought that by attempting to process multiple streams of information at once, we can work more efficiently. In Dr. Chait’s research she had 13 volunteers complete visual tasks of increasing difficulty while listening to sounds. The brain scans from the volunteers showed that their responses to sound were reduced as they worked on increasingly difficult tasks.
Inattentional Deafness & Hearing Testing
While many people will falling into the inattentional deafness category, answering with “What was that?” a bit too often can be an early sign of hearing loss. There are a lot of benefits to getting your hearing tested on a regular basis. Below are two links to articles about the benefits associated with the early detection of hearing loss. To to book an appointment for a hearing test and evaluation, call us at (204) 788-1083 Monday to Friday between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. and Saturday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.