Spouse's Voice Easier To Hear, But Also Easier To Ignore
August 29, 2013

Spouse’s Voice Easier To Hear, But Also Easier To Ignore

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

New research indicates what women already knew about their husbands: their spouse's voice is both easier to hear, and easier to ignore.

Scientists, publishing a study in the journal Psychological Science, wrote that even in a crowded room with plenty of competing voices, you will be able to pick out your wife or husband's voice above a stranger's. The team asked married couples between the ages 44 to 79 to record themselves reading scripted instructions out loud. Afterwards, they asked the participants to put a pair of headphones on as they listened to the recordings of their spouses as it played simultaneously with a recording of an unfamiliar voice.

"Familiar voices appear to influence the way an auditory 'scene' is perceptually organized," lead researcher Ingrid Johnsrude of Queen's University, Canada said in a statement.

They found that the familiar voice of a spouse stands out against other voices, showing just how sharp our auditory perception can be. Participants in the study were much more accurate on tasks when asked to listen to their spouse's voice compared to an unfamiliar voice. The researchers also found that accuracy didn't change as participants got older.

"The benefit of familiarity is very large," Johnsrude notes. "It's on the order of the benefit you see when trying to perceptually distinguish two sounds that come from different locations compared to sounds that come from the same location."

Another finding showed that spouses were also able to selectively ignore their significant other's voice when trying to listen to a stranger, which could explain why your husband ignores you while he is watching sports.

"The middle-aged adults were able to use what they knew about the familiar voice to perceptually separate and ignore it, so as to hear the unfamiliar voice better," Johnsrude explains.

The researchers did find that as people get older, the harder it is for them to ignore their spouse when trying to listen to an unfamiliar voice.

"Middle-age people can ignore their spouse — older people aren't able to as much," Johnsrude concludes.

The researchers believe that as people age, their ability to use what they know about voices to perceptually organize an auditory "scene" could become compromised.

"These findings speak to a problem that is very common amongst older individuals — difficulty hearing speech when there is background sound," Johnsrude says. "Our study identifies a cognitive factor — voice familiarity — that could help older listeners to hear better in these situations."