It has happened to all of us that when leaving the party and being in a nightclub, we approached someone to talk to them and, despite the commotion, we more or less understood what was happening to us. was saying.
This, which seems surprising, has a name and happens to be very related to the field of leisure. The cocktail effect is being able to tell the difference between the sound that interests us and the one that can be a distraction..
This effect has its importance at the evolutionary level, which is why it has been treated experimentally. If you want to know more about what it is and what theories have tried to explain it, we invite you to continue reading this article.
What is the cocktail effect?
The cocktail effect is a phenomenon that consists of focusing your attention on a particular acoustic stimulus, while trying to filter and eliminate other stimuli that can act as distractors.
The name of this phenomenon is quite representative of the effect, since, if we think about it, at a party, when we talk to a guest, we try to filter what he is telling us and ignoring the music and the other conversations that can take place simultaneously, forming the background.
Thanks to this phenomenon, we are able to tell the difference between the voice of the person with whom we are having the conversation and that of other people who can shape the acoustic background of the environment in which we find ourselves.
This same phenomenon is also what allows us, without being entirely focused on other conversations, to be able to grab attention when a word is mentioned that is important to us, How can they tell us by name.
Research has sought to uncover the neurological basis behind the cocktail effect. This phenomenon has a great evolutionary advantage, as it allows us to differentiate the sound stimuli that interest us from those that can act as distractors. Because of that, it is implied that there must be a mechanism at the brain level to give an explanation.
Auditory attention occurs primarily in the upper temporal gyrus of the right hemisphere, where the primary auditory cortex is located. There is a whole neural network involved in the process of localizing sounds from the environment. This network, which is frontoparietal, includes the inferior frontal gyrus, the superior parietal sulcus and the intraparietal sulcus. These areas are involved in attention shifting, speech processing, and attention control.
The cocktail effect it works when the person has full functionality of both ears. In other words, for this phenomenon to occur properly, the person must have good binaural hearing. Having two ears allows you to locate up to two sound sources satisfactorily, as well as assign distance and acoustic properties.
Not all of the acoustic information a person may be exposed to is processed by their brain. Multiple theories have been proposed to try to explain the fact that, faced with an environment in which multiple sound stimuli are presented, we are able to distinguish between what interests us and what constitutes the background.
Then we will see some of the most important proposals that have tried to give him explanations the phenomenon of the cocktail effect:
Donald Broadbent, performing various dichotomous listening experiences, Observed that participants were more likely to remember sound stimuli they had consciously paid attention to compared to those they had not.
For example, if they were put on two headphones and asked to pay more attention to what they heard through one of the two, it was normal for participants to say the exact same thing as they had. heard through one of the two speakers.
On this basis, Broadbent raised this attention, and in this case the audience had some sort of filterIn other words, we consciously select what we want to feel from what we don’t want to pay attention to.
The operation of this filter would be as follows: first, the information enters the brain through the ear and associated nerves, then it is stored in sensory memory, because then we pay conscious attention and select what interests us. .
Before the information is processed, the filter mechanism lets only the resulting information pass to higher processes. Once this is done, switch to working memory, where it will be used for the current conversation or, in the event that attention is given to something, it will be stored in long term memory.
However, later Gray and Wedderburn threw the Broadbent model to the ground. They conducted an equally dichotomous listening experience, only that it had certain peculiarities. Participants had to hear in one ear the following phrase “ Dear, one, Jane ” (“ Dear, one, Jane ”), while in the other, they could be heard “ three, aunt, six ” (“ 3, aunt, 6 ”). Participants recalled hearing a mixture of the two phrases, the most common being “Dear Aunt Jane” instead of numbers.
Anne Treisman proposed the mitigation model. This model argues that the information, once passed through the filters, is not completely blocked, unlike what emerges from the Broadbent model.
Instead of being completely ignored, uninteresting information is toned down, meaning it loses strength, but it just stays there. This means that due to an oversight or a distractor, he can then move on to higher attention processes.
To better understand this idea: If we are talking to someone at a party, it’s normal that we don’t pay attention to what other conversations are saying. But, if someone mentions our name, even if we didn’t pay attention to it at first, we will probably turn around and let’s see who said it. This is because our name, however subdued it may be among the background noise, has great meaning for us.
Finally, in Daniel Kahneman’s auditory attention model, a difference can be seen compared to previous models. Unlike Broadbent, Kahneman doesn’t speak in terms of filters but of capacity. Attention is seen as a resource that must be distributed among different stimuli.
Attention is more effective, the better the excitement of the person, that is, if the person has low energy and low concentration, their attention will also be lower.
This means that the more tired you are, the less likely it is for the cocktail effect to occur, which makes the person have serious difficulty in effectively discerning between the conversation they are having and the rest of the acoustic stimuli.
Cocktail effect and hearing loss
The cocktail effect only occurs if binaural hearing is available, i.e. it is heard correctly by both ears. People who suffer from some type of deafness, whether total or partial, will have great difficulty locating sound sources in space, as well as distinguishing between what the other person is saying with the sounds coming from the room. background.
For this reason it is common for people with hearing impairments to find it more difficult to distinguish background noise; they are further distracted by any interference they may have in the environment, in addition to not attending satisfactorily the conversation they are having.
It is for this reason that common situations such as partying in a noisy place or a family reunion, in which several conversations can take place at the same time, are really frustrating situations for people who suffer from some sort. hearing loss. They have a hard time focus their auditory attention on the stimulus they really want to hear.
- Broadbent, DE (1954). “The role of auditory localization in attention and memory.” Journal of Experimental Psychology. 47 (3): 191–196. doi: 10.1037 / h0054182.
- Gray JA; Wedderburn AAI (1960). “Grouping strategies with simultaneous stimuli”. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 12 (3): 180–184. doi: 10.1080 / 17470216008416722. Filed from the original on 08-01-2015. Retrieved on 07/21/2013.
- Kahneman, D. (1973). Attention and effort. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
- Bronkhorst, AW (2015) reviewed the cocktail problem: early processing and speech selection from multiple speakers. Atten Percept Psychophys. 77 (5): p. 1465-87.
- Toth, B. et al. (2019) Functional Brain Networks Related to Activated Speech Attention and Processing in a Multiple Speaker Environment. PLoS One. 14 (2): p. e0212754.
- Treisman, Anne M. (1969). “Strategies and Models of Selective Care”. Psychological review. 76 (3): 282-299. doi: 10.1037 / h0027242.