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Being Too Focused on a Task can make you Temporarily Deaf, Study Says

Update Date: Dec 09, 2015 09:39 AM EST

Before you accuse someone of ignoring you, make sure that person can even hear you in the first place.

According to a new study conducted by a research team at the University College London in the United Kingdom, people who are focused on a particular task might become temporarily deaf.

For this study, the researchers recruited 14 participants and told them that they were being tested for their reaction times. Their brain activity was monitored as they performed a series of tasks that were increasingly difficult. In the background, the researchers played tones via headphones.

The team initially thought that the participants were ignoring the noise in order to carry out their tasks. Instead, however, they found that the participants actually could not hear the noises. The team concluded that during the more difficult tasks, the brain's response to sound was significantly dampened.

"When the task was easier we could see a brain signal indicating they could hear the tone," study author Nilli Lavie, professor of psychology and brain sciences at the University, explained according to "When it was difficult, we saw a reduced signal in the auditory cortex."

The researchers explained that when a person is preoccupied with something, the brain will choose between the senses of vision and hearing, which are linked to the same region of the brain known as the association cortex.

"The brain switches from one task to another," Dr. Peter Whybrow, a psychiatrist and director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles, commented. "It doesn't do two things at once just as this study suggests."

"In order to hear, we don't just need our ears to be operating; we need our brain to respond to the sound," Lavie added, reported by ABC News. "If our brain doesn't respond because our attention is fully taken by another task, then we experience deafness. We have confirmed an experience that people commonly report, that they may fail to notice a sound when they are concentrating. It's because the brain signal related to hearing is significantly reduced during more demanding visual tasks."

This is not the first study to examine what happens when the brain becomes overloaded.

The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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