by Mary Ellen Eagan
First, I must admit that it was the photo that caught my eye – we don’t have cable at home, and it’s killing me that I’m missing Mad Men Season 5.
Today’s Wall Street Journal has an article on “the cocktail party effect” which talks about the role of background noise on our ability to focus, especially in settings such as cocktail parties. Apparently when we focus on a single conversation, our auditory cortex boosts the signal of that conversation to prioritize what’s most important. Pretty cool.
The focus of the article really, though, is about attention, and how the findings of the cocktail study demonstrate why people aren’t very good at multitasking: namely, our brains are wired for “selective attention” and can focus on only one thing at a time. This has important implications for distracted driving, walking, and other forms of multitasking. And yet, our kids seem to be pretty good at it.
BTW, a related condition is “selective hearing” – that’s when you ask your mate to take out the trash (or any other “yes, dear” chore) and it doesn’t happen. Hint: ask for a “read-back” (works especially well with pilots).