ByTommy DePaoli, writer at
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Tommy DePaoli

Anyone who's ever gotten lost in a good book has probably experienced the total tunnel vision that results. You sit in a comfy spot, flip page after page, and the rest of the world is completely blocked out. You could have someone shouting your name, but pretty much nothing can pull you away from that story.

As it turns out, there's a scientific answer to this phenomenon, and it's actually pretty surprising.

Intense focus (like reading a book) can cause "inattentional deafness"

A study from the University College London found that placing undivided attention on one visual task can cause you to become temporarily deaf to external sounds in your environment. Researchers coined the term "inattentional deafness" for obvious reasons.

Published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the study suggests that since hearing and vision both operate from the brain's association cortex with a limited amount of processing capacity, the brain must choose between the two senses.

Extremely loud sounds can still be detected, but most noise is totally missed

The study's 13 volunteers had their brains scanned, and it was clear that when they were doing something visually demanding, the brain's response to the sound was significantly reduced.

Fortunately, alarming sounds like horns and sirens are loud enough to break you out of that hyper-focus, so you can still walk down the street like Belle with your nose in a book (though I'm not sure I would recommend that).

Basically, as UCL professor and study co-author Nilli Lavie points out, you just shouldn't get mad at that bookworm in your life.

You may think that the person is ignoring you. But their brain just can’t respond to your voice. So you shouldn’t take it personally.

Pretty cool, huh?

(H/T: Hello Giggles)


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