Why children struggle with the 'cocktail party effect'

Why children struggle with the 'cocktail party effect'
Cortical tracking of the attended speech 4-8 Hz. One source distribution is displayed for each possible combination of age group (adults, top panel; children, bottom panel) and SNR condition (from left to right, Noiseless, +5 dB, 0 dB, and -5 dB). Credit: Ghinst et al., JNeurosci (2019)

Researchers have clarified the development of the ability to attend to a speaker in a noisy environment—a phenomenon known as the "cocktail party effect." Published in JNeurosci, the study could have implications for helping children navigate the often-noisy surroundings in which they grow and learn.

Marc Vander Ghinst and colleagues used magnetoencephalography to measure six- to nine-year-old and adults' brain activity while listening to a recorded storyteller mixed with background conversations. The researchers found that, compared to adults, children's brains struggled to focus on the intended speaker's voice with increasing background noise levels. Children's brains also had trouble following the syllable rate regardless of the amount of background noise.

The results imply that these abilities are still developing in late childhood and may not fully mature until the . They also help to explain why children have difficulty understanding speech in noisy backgrounds.

Explore further

Background noise may hinder toddlers' ability to learn words

More information: Cortical tracking of speech-in-noise develops from childhood to adulthood, JNeurosci (2019). DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1732-18.2019
Journal information: Journal of Neuroscience

Citation: Why children struggle with the 'cocktail party effect' (2019, February 11) retrieved 22 August 2019 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-02-children-struggle-cocktail-party-effect.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Feb 11, 2019
The article and study miss one important dimension, the need to learn to distinguish voices in a din of voices. It has already been established empirically that mothers, and to far lesser degree fathers, can pick out their own infant's cries among many others.

I personally became aware of the learning dimension when I went to live in the forest in an isolated tin shed for two years. At first there was a din of bird calls. Later I could easily pick out particular birds and noted that birds would call to each other, a couple of chirps near by and then a couple of chirps by the same species far off down the forest.

Clearly this ability to pick out individual bird calls, a common ability among bird watchers, was learned over the course of a week. I also note that after years of living away from crowds that it is much harder to pick voices in a din of voices but assume that this would quickly improve with more frequent exposure.

Do children need to learn adult distractors?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more