London: Human brain is better at hearing new and approaching sounds than detecting when a sound disappears, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University College London Ear Institute wanted to try and understand what makes certain sounds easily detectable while others go unnoticed.
They created artificial `soundscapes` composed of different on-going sounds and asked listeners to detect the onset or disappearance of different sound-objects within the melee.
Overall, the team found that listeners were remarkably tuned to detecting new sounds around them but were much less able to detect when a sound disappears.
In busy sound environments, the participants missed more than half of the changes occurring around them and the changes that were detected involved much longer reaction times.
The effects were observed even in relatively simple soundscapes and didn`t seem to be affected by volume.
"On the one hand, we might expect to be more sensitive to the appearance of new events. In terms of survival, it is clearly much more important to detect the arrival of a predator than one that has just disappeared," Dr Maria Chait, who led the research, said.
"But this reasoning doesn`t apply to other situations. Imagine walking in a forest with your friend behind you and suddenly having the sound of their footsteps disappear. Our results demonstrate that there are a large number of potentially urgent events to which we are fundamentally not sensitive. We refer to this phenomenon as `disappearance blindness`," Chait said in a statement.
The study also explored how resilient listeners are to scene interruptions. In busy scenes, such as those we often face in the world around us, important scene changes frequently coincide in time with other events.
The study showed that even brief interruptions, such as a short `beep` occurring at the same time as the change, are sufficient to make listeners fail to notice larger scene changes.
It is thought that this occurs because the interruption briefly captures our attention and prevents the information about the change from reaching our consciousness.
"Understanding what makes certain events pop out and grab attention while others pass by un-noticed is important not only for understanding how we perceive the world but also has important practical applications," added Chait.