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What is selective hearing?

What is selective hearing

Selective hearing – What is it and how does it work?

Do you feel like you have partner or family member who appears to have trouble hearing you at times – it feels like you’re being ignored and it can be quite frustrating!

Most of us use the term ‘selective hearing’ as a negative, usually implying that a person only hears what they want to hear. Accusing someone of having selective hearing can be quite harsh and sometimes offensive.

What is selective hearing?

If you have selective hearing, also called selective auditory attention, you can listen to a single speaker in a noisy environment. When you focus your attention on a single person while in a crowded or loud environment, you ‘tune out’ other speakers, words or sounds. This ‘tuning out’ of sounds is an integral part of our brain’s function.

Unlike when you purposely decide to ignore someone, selective hearing is usually an unconscious process that kicks in when trying to focus your attention on a specific sound or speaker’s words. A perfect example of this is when you are deep in conversation with someone, you focus so much on that person that your brain begins to block out other people and sounds.

Selective hearing is actually an important skill to have. Allowing us to filter out information to ease the burden on our brain and avoid overload.

How does selective hearing work?

When you direct your attention to specific source of speech or sound you are looking at selective hearing in action. Your auditory system, or ears, ‘hear’ the surrounding noise in your current environment but your brain only process particular parts of the auditory information – unsurprisingly, your attention is most frequently directed at things you are most interested in!

In some ways, selective hearing is both a blessing and a defence mechanism to protect our brain from too many auditory stimuli. As incredible as our brains are, they simply cannot process all sensory information around us simultaneously. Thanks to our ability to ‘selectively hear’, only the most important parts are processed thoroughly.

In short, selective hearing is not a physiological disorder, instead it’s a skill that allows us to block out sounds, noise or speech that is less important at any given moment.

How do we select the more important sound?

A great question! We know that various factors affect which sounds we end up focusing on and which ones we ignore. In some instances, it’s due to ease. For example, sounds that are closer to us are easier to focus on so our brains may choose to focus on the sound or noise that is closer to us. The amount of competing noises, sounds and speech can also play a role. As we all know, it’s much easier to focus on conversation in an environment where there aren’t competing conversations; like a library versus a restaurant.

A person’s interest in a topic also impacts the selection process – Imagine a parent telling their child to clean their room, the child will probably find any other noise interesting. (or any other funny situation that’s appropriate to write, pls help).

When to get your hearing tested?

If you are confident that all you are dealing with is selective auditory attention (selective hearing), there’s no cause for concern. However, if you feel that your symptoms may be due to hearing loss it might be time to have a hearing test. You can call our lovely team on 8331 8047 to book a FREE hearing test at one of our clinics.

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