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'Inattentional Deafness' Cuts Off Sound From Your Environment

First Posted: Dec 09, 2015 12:28 PM EST

Being too focused on a task can make you temporarily "deaf," according to a recent study.

Researchers from the University College London found that placing undivided attention into a visual task can actually cut an individual's sound off to their environment, resulting in a deficit called "inattentional deafness."

"In order to hear, we don't just need our ears to be operating; we need our brain to respond to the sound," said UCL Professor Nilli Lavie, co-author of the study, via ABC News.

During the study, researchers recruited 14 participants--telling them that they were being tested for their reaction times. Their brain activity was monitored while they performed a series of increasingly difficult tasks. Meanwhile, the researchers played music in the background while the participants wore headphones.

Though researchers initially thought the participants were ignoring the noise coming through the headphones, it turns out that they actually could not hear it. Researchers believe that depending on the difficulty of the tasks, the brain's response to sound shut down the response to the noise.

"When the task was easier we could see a brain signal indicating they could hear the tone," study author Nilli Lavie, professor of psychology and brain sciences at the University, said via Today.com. "When it was difficult, we saw a reduced signal in the auditory cortex."

When a person is preoccupied with something, the brain will actually pick between vision and hearing. Both are located in the same region of the brain, known as the association cortex.

However, it's important to note that "inattentional deafness" can hold serious implications--particularly when it comes to those operating a motor vehicle or someone whose job involves intense concentration, even when distractions are involved, such as a surgeon.

The study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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