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Auditory attention

Beaman, P. (2021) Auditory attention. In: Braddick, O. (ed.) Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190236557.013.778


The modern world is noisy. Our streets are cacophonies of traffic noise, our homes and workplaces replete with bleeping timers, announcements, and alarms. Everywhere there is the sound of human speech – from the casual chatter of strangers and the unwanted intrusion from electronic devices through to the conversations with friends and loved ones we may actually wish to hear. Unlike vision, it is not possible simply to “close our ears” and shut out the auditory world and nor, in many cases, is it desirable. On the one hand, soft background music or environmental sounds, such as birdsong or the noise of waves against the beach, is often comfortingly pleasurable or reassuring. On the other, alarms are usually auditory for a reason. Nevertheless we somehow have to identify, from amongst the babble that surrounds us, the sounds and speech of interest and importance and to follow the thread of our chosen speaker in a crowded auditory environment. Additionally, irrelevant or unwanted chatter or other background noise should not hinder concentration on matters of greater interest or importance – students should ideally be able to study effectively despite noisy classrooms, or University halls, while still being open to the possibility of important interruptions from elsewhere. The scientific study of auditory attention has been driven by such practical problems: how we somehow manage to select the most interesting or most relevant speaker from the competing auditory demands made by the speech of others, or isolate the music of the band from the chatter of the nightclub. In parallel, the causes of auditory distraction – and how to try and avoid it where necessary – have also been subject to scrutiny. A complete theory of auditory attention must account for the mechanisms by which selective attention is achieved, the causes of auditory distraction, and the reasons why individuals might differ in their ability in both cases.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Language and Cognition
ID Code:97021
Publisher:Oxford University Press


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