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Cocktail party effect

a listening experience


Cocktail party effect = Cocktailparty-Effekt, intelligentes oder selektives Hören —— ein Phänomen, bei dem das Gehirn in der Lage ist, die auditive Aufmerksamkeit auf einen bestimmten Reiz zu lenken und dabei eine Reihe anderer Reize auszublenden, wie z. B. wenn sich ein Partygänger in einem lauten Raum auf ein einziges Gespräch konzentrieren kann



“Scientists have been working for years to resolve this problem, known as the COCKTAIL PARTY EFFECT. The brain-controlled hearing aid appears to have cracked the problem using a combination of artificial intelligence and sensors designed to monitor the listener’s brain activity.”

Hannah Devlin - The Guardian

Did you

Cocktail party effect

- the ability (or the difficulty) of focusing one’s attention on a single auditory source among a jumble of noises.

- a situation in which a person engrossed in conversation, nonetheless hears their name mentioned elsewhere in the hubbub of the party. This demonstrates our ability to unconsciously monitor the social environment for self-relevant cues.


The effect was first defined and named “the cocktail party problem” by Colin Cherry in 1953. Cherry, a researcher at Imperial College, London, conducted a series of experiments in which participants listened to different messages from single and multiple loudspeakers at the same time, and tried to separate them.


This phenomenon first became relevant for air traffic control in the 1950s. Air traffic controllers received messages from many pilots simultaneously into a single loudspeaker and it was their job to mentally filter out the message that they needed in order to guide planes safely to landing.

The mechanism our brains use to filter aural information is very hard to mimic digitally. Neuroscientists, psychologists, and acousticians are still struggling to understand the puzzling implications of this phenomenon.


Interestingly, if you muffle one of your ears at a cocktail party, it suddenly becomes very difficult to localise a sound source and focus on a single conversation.

SYNONYMS for listening

attending, harking, hearkening, heeding, catching, eavesdropping, ausculting, behearing, monitoring, overhearing, tuning in, paying attention, hearing out, concentrating on, giving/lending ear to, keeping your ears open, picking up on, pricking up ears, tuning in on/to, concentrating on hearing, listening intently, giving attention, pinning back one’s ears, getting a load of, hanging on someone’s words

SMUGGLE OWAD into today’s conversation, say something like:

“Next time you’re in a room with several conversations, test the COCKTAIL PARTY EFFECT by closing your eyes and muffling one of your ears.”

THANKS to Henning for triggering today’s OWAD

HERZLICHEN DANK to all readers helping me keep OWAD alive with single or monthly donations at:


Paul Smith, IBAN: DE75 7316 0000 0002 5477 40

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