Focus on Acoustics: The Cocktail Party Effect

We’ve all been to parties – especially around this time of year as we celebrate the holidays – and noticed how noisy these events can become. As the wine runs low, the noise level often runs high, but what’s really interesting is the personal acoustical phenomenon that takes place within this environment and your own ears. Despite the ambient noise level being at or above the level of your conversation, you’re still able to hear and understand the person you’re talking to. This is commonly known as the “cocktail party effect.” Auditory information sent to the brain is bottle-necked through a series of filters, focusing on information that is important. Whether that be a conversation with a good friend at a busy bar, the story you’ve heard a million times from your senile old uncle, or your name being mentioned on the other side of the room, your auditory processing system is working to filter out the high level of background noise and capture those sounds that have relevance and meaning to you. So this holiday season, as the corks fly, the noise levels rise and we enjoy the company of family and friends, don’t forget to observe the cocktail party effect and appreciate just how very cool the human body’s very own built-in, organic auditory processing can be.