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Curr Biol. 2005 Jun 21;15(12):1108-13.

Directed attention eliminates 'change deafness' in complex auditory scenes.

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Department of Psychology, Monash University, Victoria 3800, Australia.


In natural environments that contain multiple sound sources, acoustic energy arising from the different sources sums to produce a single complex waveform at each of the listener's ears. The auditory system must segregate this waveform into distinct streams to permit identification of the objects from which the signals emanate [1]. Although the processes involved in stream segregation are now reasonably well understood [1, 2 and 3], little is known about the nature of our perception of complex auditory scenes. Here, we examined complex scene perception by having listeners detect a discrete change to an auditory scene comprising multiple concurrent naturalistic sounds. We found that listeners were remarkably poor at detecting the disappearance of an individual auditory object when listening to scenes containing more than four objects, but they performed near perfectly when their attention was directed to the identity of a potential change. In the absence of directed attention, this "change deafness" [4] was greater for objects arising from a common location in space than for objects separated in azimuth. Change deafness was also observed for changes in object location, suggesting that it may reflect a general effect of the dependence of human auditory perception on attention.

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