Familiarity Breeds Better Hearing in Crowded Rooms

Photodisc/Thinkstock(KINGSTON, Ontario) -- One of the drawbacks of being married for a long time is that couples will sometimes say that they get irritated by the sound of their spouse's voice.

Yet, what is occasionally irksome can also be extremely beneficial as people age and begin to lose their hearing.

Ingrid Johnsrude, a professor of psychology at Queen's University in Ontario, says that conversations gets harder to make out, especially in party settings, as we getting further into our middle and older years.

However, even when the brain's auditory system gets overloaded with noise, Johnsrude says that elderly people can often follow at least one voice, and that's the person they're most familiar with, such as a husband or wife.

She adds, "Not only do they hear that voice better than a matched stranger's voice, but they can also use the voice they know to ignore it so as to attend to another voice more easily."

The study of the so-called "cocktail party effect" was conducted among couples who were married for at least 18 years.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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