Sunday, February 28, 2010

Auditory multitasking.

JG put up a reading challenge that she is going to do.  It is called the 50 book challenge. Stunningly you have to read 50 books in a year.  Should be do-able!  I'm in.

One thing I have been discovering about having the podcasts is the odd things that it does to your head.  I find that I am not able to listen to it and hear another conversation.  It is the relentless nature of the podcast. Naturally, it refuses to respond to any distractions I may be enduring and doggedly continues onward.  It also has, like the devil in those medieval paintings, the advantage of perching on my shoulder and whispering in my ear.

That's one aspect.

Another is that it affects your hearing.  I never go around with both earphones in as I want to be able to hear ambient sound around me, but something odd happens when I do this, and there is essentially a form of auditory multitasking I am calling on my brain to perform which it is startlingly ill-equiped to deal with.

Thinking about it we almost never have auditory imput that is both exclusive and different for each ear.  Our brains are not meant to handle this.  I get an odd feeling in my head when it happens.  More so that when two people are talking to me simultaneously.  Closer to the sensation I get when two people are talking to me, one in English and one it Catalan.  You can pretty much see the processors overheating when that happens.  This is even odder.

Another oddity is the near complete loss of the ability to locate sounds in space.  We were at Cosmo Caixa this weekend and there were some auditory experiments using stereo headphones. One of them was the sound of someone shaking a box of matches and you could trace where they were all around you, over and behind you, even down low on the floor behind your chair.  Quite amazing.

With one headphone in?  Gone.  This, I believe is not exclusive to the speech nature of the imput but would occur equally if I were listening to music.

Finally was a weird and quirky bit of distortion I got the other morning.  I was walking along quite early with the dog when I was utterly certain that I heard a very young baby cry out.  You know that cry that babies have in the first few weeks/two months?  That one.  I was in a little park and I had a really good look around, and not surprisingly did not come across an abandoned baby.  (Thank goodness)  Then I heard it again.  I still could not locate it in space at all.  This was a baby calling out.  I looked over at a sign that was attached to a metal barrier with electrical ties and which was blowing in the wind as the likely culprit so I watched it while waiting for the sound again.  Heard it again, and even looking at the sign, I was not sure where the sound came from.

After this I stopped the podcast and removed the headset.  Then I waited again.  I briefly debated going home, there was clearly no abandoned baby there, but the fact that it sounded like such a young child drove me to remain till I was 100% sure what the sound was.  Once the headphones were off I easily identified it as the sign moving, but was quite surprised to discover that it did not sound much like a baby crying at all when I had both earphones off.

This distortion to the sound was what I found most interesting.  I think I should have been some kind of neurologist, because I would love to know what was going on in my head at that point.  What weird quirk was distorting the noise to the point that I could not only not distinguish its location, but I was also quite unclear about the nature of the sound.

It will be interesting to see if I become a more skilled auditory listener under the onslaught of experience or if I just mess with my head.



Jason, as himself said...

Interesting topic. There is something so strange about earphones because one gets the sensation that the music/voice is coming right from the center of one's head.

I've not ever listened to a podcast. I'm sure I wouldn't be able to listen to two things at once very well either. I can't even read and listen to something else!

Beth said...

I’m wondering if you could end up doing more damage than simply messing with your head? Will your neurological system adapt? Headphones have been around for years but have never enjoyed the popularity & degree of use they do these days. And I bet you’re not the only one listening with just one ear.
Keep us tuned in!

The Bodhi Chicklet said...

I find earphones so disorienting. It's even harder to listen with just one in. The only time I really give over to them is with my portable dvd player which I wedge in the top of my elliptical machine for exercising. Other than that, I am distracted by all that is going on around me which is a shame because there are so many podcasts etc. that I would love to listen to.

P.S. Love today's canvas.

Lynda said...

Oddly, I was talking about this subject last night. In the car - I am driving, Miss Eight was speaking at me in English, the radio was in German, Mr Dear Husband in English and the TomTom in German... I ended up shouting at them all to stop because I missed the turn off and was starting to feel nuts. Overload.

I don't put both earbuds in either... because I find I get spooked.

Anonymous said...

I would take no chances and go consult some ear doctor before using those headphones again.

Helen said...

It's because the podcast isn't background but is something you are concentrating on. I have the tv on in the background as I type this, and can also talk to Nic as well. However the podcasts I download I want to LISTEN to, not hear as background. I am the same with music or tv, or conversations, if it needs concentration it can't be multitasked. I am listening to the BBC's History of the world in 100 objects in bed in the dark with my eyes shut. It is lovely

oreneta said...

Jason, this also fascinates me. I cannot read or study with background music on anymore, but I used to be able to. My teenage students also focus better with music on, to the point that I will let them listen to their MP3's when studying in class. They settle somehow and are calmer and work harder. There is so much going on neurologically inside a teenager's rapidly changing brain it would be fascinating to discover how the interaction between music and study relate. I wonder if they would do better on tests? I think that teens are very strongly auditory in so many ways. Watch them, and most of them spend the bulk of their time chatting and connecting, the music must feed into this somehow.

Wish I was a neurologist, it would be fascinating to research.

Beth, I have great faith in the brain's astonishing plasticity. I don't think I am doing any harm, but it would be interesting if I discover side effects of the process.

Bodhi, I know what you mean, maybe it is the years of teaching, I can listen to more than one thing at once, listen to the student and also listen for what the heck the rest of the monsters are doing at the same time. I can't concentrate well doing that, but a surface level conversation, yes. Thanks about the canvas!

Lynda, you were also driving through a hurricane, no?

ElP, I like to live on the wild side! Do you listen with one ear or two?

Helen, there is no doubt about that, I do want to pay attention in a way I don't with pop music, and I have to switch it off if I talk to people, whichever language is involved.

History of the world in 100 objects, I was overwhelmed by it, it is so descriptive I couldn't concentrate enough, I will have to do as you are and listen in the dark at night. That ought to do it.