Fight or Flight for the Brain

A new study shows how the brain is able to hone in on the speaker it wants to hear in a noisy environment, like a cocktail party.  From NBC News (via Instapundit):

Studying the infamous “cocktail party problem,” researchers found that brain waves are shaped to allow the brain to track the sounds it’s interested in while ignoring competing sounds. The findings could be used to aid people with problems hearing or focusing on sounds, linked to  attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and aging, researchers reported March 6 in the journal Neuron.

Humans don’t have a way of closing their minds to sounds, and so the brain “hears” everything that reaches a person’s ears. The new study confirmed this.

“We also provide the first clear evidence that there may be brain locations in which there is exclusive representation of an attended speech segment, with ignored conversations apparently filtered out,” senior author Charles Schroeder, a neuroscientist at Columbia University, said in a statement.

This immediately brought to mind the old story about the college professor who was shocked that Reagan won in 1980, exclaiming, “I don’t know a single person who voted for him!”

If the brain can ignore competing sounds, I wonder if there are studies about the brain ignoring competing ideas.  We certainly know many consciously do it (like favoring Fox News over MSNBC or vice versa).  But I wonder if we (humans, not necessarily conservatives) also subconciously do it.  For instance, if someone is watching the local news, does their brain filter out the news they subconciously don’t want to hear.  It may be because it competes with their positive or negative worldview and causes stress.  It’s the brain’s version of flight instead of fight. 

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