Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Your spouse's voice is easier to hear -- and easier to ignore

Date:
August 29, 2013
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
With so many other competing voices, having a conversation on a bustling subway or at a crowded cocktail party takes a great deal of concentration. New research suggests that the familiar voice of a spouse stands out against other voices, helping to sharpen auditory perception and making it easier to focus on one voice at a time.

With so many other competing voices, having a conversation on a bustling subway or at a crowded cocktail party takes a great deal of concentration. New research suggests that the familiar voice of a spouse stands out against other voices, helping to sharpen auditory perception and making it easier to focus on one voice at a time.

Related Articles


"Familiar voices appear to influence the way an auditory 'scene' is perceptually organized," explains lead researcher Ingrid Johnsrude of Queen's University, Canada.

Johnsrude and her colleagues asked married couples, ages 44-79, to record themselves reading scripted instructions out loud. Later, each participant put on a pair of headphones and listened to the recording of his or her spouse as it played simultaneously with a recording of an unfamiliar voice.

On some trials, participants were told to report what their spouse said; on other trials, they were supposed to report what the unfamiliar voice said. The researchers wanted to see whether familiarity would make a difference in how well the participants understood what the target voice was saying.

The results, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, show a clear benefit of listening to the familiar voice.

Participants tended to be much more accurate on the task when they had to listen to their spouse's voice compared to an unfamiliar voice matched on both age and sex -- they perceived their spouse's voice more clearly. Furthermore, accuracy didn't change as participants got older when they were listening to their spouse's voice.

"The benefit of familiarity is very large," Johnsrude notes. "It's on the order of the benefit you see when trying to perceptually distinguish two sounds that come from different locations compared to sounds that come from the same location."

But when participants were asked to report the unfamiliar voice, age-related differences emerged.

Middle-aged adults seemed to be relatively adept at following the unfamiliar voice, especially when it was masked by their spouse's voice -- that is, they were better at understanding the unfamiliar voice when it was masked by their spouse's voice compared to when it was masked by another unfamiliar voice.

"The middle-aged adults were able to use what they knew about the familiar voice to perceptually separate and ignore it, so as to hear the unfamiliar voice better," Johnsrude explains.

But performance on these trials declined as the participants went up in age -- the older the participant was, the less able he or she was to report correctly what the unfamiliar voice was saying.

"Middle-age people can ignore their spouse -- older people aren't able to as much," Johnsrude concludes.

The researchers suggest that as people age, their ability to use what they know about voices to perceptually organize an auditory 'scene' may become compromised.

While this may make it more difficult for older adults to pick out an unfamiliar voice, it has an interesting consequence: The relative benefit of having a familiar voice as the target actually increases with age.

"These findings speak to a problem that is very common amongst older individuals -- difficulty hearing speech when there is background sound," Johnsrude says. "Our study identifies a cognitive factor -- voice familiarity -- that could help older listeners to hear better in these situations."

Co-authors on this research include Allison Mackey, Hιlθne Hakyemez, Elizabeth Alexander, and Heather Trang of Queen's University, Canada; and Robert Carlyon of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, England.

This research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Innovation Trust, and the Canada Research Chairs Program.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. I. S. Johnsrude, A. Mackey, H. Hakyemez, E. Alexander, H. P. Trang, R. P. Carlyon. Swinging at a Cocktail Party: Voice Familiarity Aids Speech Perception in the Presence of a Competing Voice. Psychological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1177/0956797613482467

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "Your spouse's voice is easier to hear -- and easier to ignore." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 August 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130829093316.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2013, August 29). Your spouse's voice is easier to hear -- and easier to ignore. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 30, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130829093316.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "Your spouse's voice is easier to hear -- and easier to ignore." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130829093316.htm (accessed March 30, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Monday, March 30, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

AAA: Distracted Driving a Serious Teen Problem

AAA: Distracted Driving a Serious Teen Problem

AP (Mar. 25, 2015) — While distracted driving is not a new problem for teens, new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says it&apos;s much more serious than previously thought. (March 25) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Smartphone Use Changing Our Brain and Thumb Interaction, Say Researchers

Smartphone Use Changing Our Brain and Thumb Interaction, Say Researchers

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Mar. 25, 2015) — European researchers say our smartphone use offers scientists an ideal testing ground for human brain plasticity. Dr Ako Ghosh&apos;s team discovered that the brains and thumbs of smartphone users interact differently from those who use old-fashioned handsets. Jim Drury went to meet him. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Many Don't Know They Have Alzheimer's, But Their Doctors Do

Many Don't Know They Have Alzheimer's, But Their Doctors Do

Newsy (Mar. 24, 2015) — According to a new study by the Alzheimer&apos;s Association, more than half of those who have the degenerative brain disease aren&apos;t told by their doctors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
A Quick 45-Minute Nap Can Improve Your Memory

A Quick 45-Minute Nap Can Improve Your Memory

Newsy (Mar. 23, 2015) — Researchers found those who napped for 45 minutes to an hour before being tested on information recalled it five times better than those who didn&apos;t. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins