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Selecting Sounds: How the Brain Knows What To Listen To graphic

New Non-invasive Approach Reveals Brain Mechanisms of Auditory Attention

How is it that we are able—without any noticeable effort—to listen to a friend talk in a crowded café or follow the melody of a violin within an orchestra?

A team led by scientists at Carnegie Mellon University and Birkbeck, University of London has developed a new approach to how the brain singles out a specific stream of sound from other distracting sounds. Using a novel experimental approach, the scientists non-invasively mapped sustained auditory selective attention in the human brain. Published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the study lays crucial groundwork to track deficits in auditory attention due to aging, disease or brain trauma and to create clinical interventions, like behavioral training, to potentially correct or prevent hearing issues.

“Deficits in auditory selective attention can happen for many reasons—concussion, stroke, autism or even healthy aging. They are also associated with social isolation, depression, cognitive dysfunction and lower work force participation. Now, we have a clearer understanding of the cognitive and neural mechanisms responsible for how the brain can select what to listen to,” said Lori Holt, professor of psychology in CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and a faculty member of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC). (Read more…)