Noisy surroundings take toll on short-term memory
While participants kept the numbers they had heard in mind, alpha wave increased, peaking, when bad acoustics were combined with longer strings of numbers. Credit: Max Planck Society
Have you ever noticed how tiresome it can be to follow a conversation at a noisy party? Rest assured: this is not necessarily due to bad hearing – although that might make things worse. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig have found that adverse listening situations are difficult for the brain, partly because they draw on the same, limited resources supporting our short-term memory. The new findings are particularly relevant to understanding the cognitive consequences of hearing damage, a condition that affects an increasing number of people.
Whether we are engaged in small talk or trying to memorise a telephone number - it is our short-term memory that ensures we don't lose track. But what if the very same memory gets additionally taxed because the words to be remembered are hard to understand? This is suggested by a new study conducted by Jonas Obleser and his team at the Max Planck Research Group "Auditory Cognition"
In the experiment, listeners were asked to memorise a few digits they heard (e.g., "2…5…9…3") for just over a second. This is a very easy task, and when asked whether they remembered hearing a certain digit, listeners answered correctly 90 percent of the time. During this process, Obleser and his colleagues were using magnetoencephalography to measure so-called "alpha waves" in the brain. "The brain tends to time its activity in rhythmic waves with the alpha rhythm consisting of 8 to 12 activity waves per second", Obleser explains. "The reason we were interested in this particular rhythm is that the strength of the alpha waves has been shown to indicate how much information you are currently storing in your short-term memory, with more vigorous alpha waves signalling a busier time."
As expected, alpha waves were stronger when listeners had more digits to memorise. But surprisingly, the strength of the alpha waves also depended on the acoustic format of the speech signal, which the scientists varied from clear to heavily degraded. The harder the digits were to understand, the stronger the alpha waves became. Speech content (e.g., a phone number you would like to remember) and speech acoustics (such as the noisy party at which you overheard that phone number) thus draw on a shared brain resource.
In our everyday lives our short term memory has a natural limit, which may be reached faster in noisy surroundings. These findings may be particularly relevant to populations who are constantly receiving such adverse input: People with hearing damage, or – most drastically – people who have restored but very fragmented hearing through an artificial inner ear, the so-called cochlear implant.
Further studies could examine in more detail how chronic sensory degradations affect the executive functions of the brain.
More information: Obleser, J., Woestmann, M., Hellbernd, N., Wilsch, A. , Maess, B. (2012). Adverse listening conditions and memory load drive a common alpha oscillatory network. Journal of Neuroscience. September 5, 2012, 32(36):12376 –12383
Provided by Max Planck Society
- Short-term memory is based on synchronized brain oscillations Jan 31, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Study: Meditators 'surprisingly' alert Jul 06, 2007 | not rated yet | 0
- Meditation may help the brain 'turn down the volume' on distractions Apr 21, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Mild hearing loss linked to brain atrophy in older adults Aug 31, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Measuring the auditory dynamics of selective attention Aug 22, 2008 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
Pressure-volume curve: Elastic Recoil Pressure don't make sense
May 18, 2013 From pressure-volume curve of the lung and chest wall (attached photo), I don't understand why would the elastic recoil pressure of the lung is...
If you became brain-dead, would you want them to pull the plug?
May 17, 2013 I'd want the rest of me to stay alive. Sure it's a lousy way to live but it beats being all-the-way dead. Maybe if I make it 20 years they'll...
MRI bill question
May 15, 2013 Dear PFers, The hospital gave us a $12k bill for one MRI (head with contrast). The people I talked to at the hospital tell me that they do not...
Ratio of Hydrogen of Oxygen in Dessicated Animal Protein
May 13, 2013 As an experiment, for the past few months I've been consuming at least one portion of Jell-O or unflavored Knox gelatin per day. I'm 64, in very...
Alcohol and acetaminophen
May 13, 2013 Edit: sorry for the typo in the title , can't edit I looked around on google quite a bit and it's very hard to find precise information on the...
Marie Curie's leukemia
May 13, 2013 Does anyone know what might be the cause of Marie Curie's cancer
- More from Physics Forums - Medical Sciences
More news stories
For combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, 'fear circuitry' in the brain never rests
Chronic trauma can inflict lasting damage to brain regions associated with fear and anxiety. Previous imaging studies of people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, have shown that these brain regions can over-or ...
Neuroscience May 18, 2013 | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |
The neural machinery underlying our olfactory sense continues to be an enigma for neuroscience. A recent review in Neuron seeks to expand traditional ideas about how neurons in the olfactory bulb might encode information about ...
Neuroscience May 17, 2013 | 4 / 5 (1) | 0 |
(Medical Xpress)—What if the quality of your work depends more on your focus on the piano keys or canvas or laptop than your musical or painting or computing skills? If target users can be convinced, they ...
Neuroscience May 17, 2013 | 3.7 / 5 (3) | 0 |
Neurological disorders can have a devastating impact on the lives of sufferers and their families.
Neuroscience May 17, 2013 | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |
If you're a left-brain thinker, chances are you use your right hand to hold your cell phone up to your right ear, according to a newly published study from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
Neuroscience May 16, 2013 | 2 / 5 (2) | 0 |
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have identified a potential new risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea: asthma. Using data from the National Institutes of Health (Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)-funded Wisconsin ...
5 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
A new study looking at sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) and markers for Alzheimer's disease (AD) risk in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and neuroimaging adds to the growing body of research linking the two.
5 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |
In their quest to learn more about the variability of cells between and within tissues, biomedical scientists have devised tools capable of simultaneously measuring dozens of characteristics of individual ...
6 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |
Scientists at Johns Hopkins have turned their view of osteoarthritis (OA) inside out. Literally. Instead of seeing the painful degenerative disease as a problem primarily of the cartilage that cushions joints, ...
6 hours ago | 5 / 5 (2) | 0 |
Gourmands and foodies everywhere have long recognized ginger as a great way to add a little peppery zing to both sweet and savory dishes; now, a study from researchers at Columbia University shows purified components of the ...
5 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
The hunt for an HIV vaccine has gobbled up $8 billion in the past decade, and the failure of the most recent efficacy trial has delivered yet another setback to 26 years of efforts.
10 hours ago | not rated yet | 0