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Musicians Are Better At Isolating Voices In a Crowd, Study Finds

Anna Green
istock / istock

Musicians hear the world differently than non-musicians. According to a recent study, musicians aren’t just highly skilled at isolating the sounds of individual instruments in a piece of music, but are also better than non-musicians at isolating individual vocal streams when multiple people talk over each other.

This study on overlapping speech perception amongst musicians and non-musicians was conducted by researchers in the Netherlands and was recently published a study in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. As Scientific American explains, for the study, researchers played audio recordings of one speaker talking over another for 18 musicians and 20 non-musicians, and asked them to repeat as many words as possible in one speaker’s sentence.

They found that musicians scored much higher, successfully identifying more words in the “target” sentence, than non-musicians. This, the researchers believe, means musicians may be better than others at listening in on conversations in noisy areas or untangling conversational strands at cocktail parties. Scientists call this ability to isolate voices “stream segregation.”

"Anecdotally, when I speak to my musician friends, they do indeed mention situations like this, that they say they can switch their attention easily to either hear one stream, like from an orchestra piece or a band, or they can also combine patterns,” researcher Deniz Başkent told Scientific American. “So this requires quite a lot of cognitive control to be able to hear one stream or two streams together or to hear all of them together, but we think they are very well trained in this kind of skill.”

[h/t Scientific American]