Inattentional deafness under dynamic musical condition

Koreimann, S., Strauß, S., & Vitouch, O. (2009). Inattentional deafness under dynamic musical conditions.

Also sprach Zarathustra (Strauss)

Yesterday as I was scrolling through my feeds I noticed an interesting concept I’ve never heard before: Inattentional Deafness. It makes sense if one thinks about it, but I’ve never seen this term, even while reading about Inattentional Blindness and Cognitive Tunneling.

So I just started researching on the subject and this week I’ll be digging deeper into it.

This text is a proceeding from the 7th Triennial Conference of European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music (ESCOM 2009).

Remember this post? Neisser was the first to demonstrate the phenomenon of inattentional blindness, although not using the term. The term was later coined by Mack and Rock (1998), who demonstrated that the inattention awareness phenomena are by no means restricted to vision.

Inattentional Deafness happens when a particular auditory stimulus remains unnoticed.

The authors of this study wanted to replicate the gorilla experiment but using audio stimuli. They used the opening of “Thus spoke Zaratustra” from Strauss, and edited it so that at 1:16s, 20s of an electric guitar solo were embebed in the audio file. The authors used two different audio, one with the main take of the piece, and another alternate take, edited in order to be simpler, and with more noticeable modifications.

Non-musicians and amateur musicians were used in this experiment. The task of the experimental group was to count the number of tympani beats in the piece. By the end of the listening phase, participants were asked if they noticed anything peculiar, if any unfitting sounds or instruments were noticed and, finally, if they noticed an e-guitar.


In the Main Take, in the non-musicians group only one person mentioned explicitly the e-guitar. In the control group 52% of the participants noticed it. As for the amateur musicians, the results were less extreme, although 38% of the participants noticed the guitar, compared to 68% from the control group. A significant difference between non and amateur musicians was found.

In the Alternate Take the authors used only non-musicians. Participants performed better, although the inattentional deafness effect was still present.

This meant that the effect is moderated by the difficulty of the attended task. Another interesting finding, according to the authors, was the presence of the inattentional deafness effect in domain-specific experts, which hasn’t been found/done before in the context of inattentional blindness.



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