It's often nice to hear a familiar voice, but sometimes we're also guilty of tuning out wives, husbands, parents and even some friends. It turns out that our brains help us tune out spouses more effectively as we age.
Ingrid Johnsrude, a psychologist at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, and her colleagues found that a familiar voice helps us organize the voices we hear in a crowd, so we can focus on the familiar voice--or ignore it. As we grow older and/or harder of hearing, we can also use these audio cues as a guide to sorting out voices in a crowd. Another sign of aging, however, is our ability to tune out the familiar voice.
Johnsrude and her team asked married couples, aged 44-79 years, to make recordings of themselves reading scripts out loud. Then, each participant listened to the recordings which played at the same time as another recording with an unfamiliar voice. The researchers asked the participants to either recall what their spouses said, or what the unfamiliar voice said.
The findings, published in Psychological Science, showed that couples recall was much more accurate when listening to their spouse's voice compared to an unfamiliar voice -- they perceived their spouse's voice more clearly. This accuracy didn't change as participants got older when listening to their spouse's voice.
But something happened with the older participants. The older adults were better at following the unfamiliar voice, particularly when their spouses were also speaking. This perception was more acute with the spouse's voice than with a second unfamiliar voice.
"The middle-aged adults were able to use what they knew about the familiar voice to perceptually separate and ignore it, so as to hear the unfamiliar voice better," Johnsrude explains.
And the older the participant was, the better he or she was at ignoring the spouses voice, to better focus on the unfamiliar one.
So, you can say that again; and probably should.