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How the brain selects what to listen to

By Shilo Rea

Scientists have singled out the method we use to separate sounds from each other.

Main titles

Auditory selective attention

"Now, we have a clearer understanding of the cognitive and neural mechanisms responsible for how the brain can select what to listen to" said Lori Holt, professor of psychology in CMU's Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

The experiment

The task was to be able to distinguish between differing melodies and note repetitions in the music.


The cortex contains many 'tonotopic' maps of auditory frequency.

Listening to a particular frequency, simultaneously activates map sections that are tuned to that frequency, and much of the cortex where sound information is known to arrive and processed.