Teenagers really can become temporarily deaf when focused on video games

Actor Alexander James Rodriguez warms up and checks out Wii U at the Nintendo Lounge during a break from the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, Jan. 21, 2013 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Invision for Nintendo/AP Images)

All moms have teased their kids about having selective hearing when they ask them to do chores. But it turns out that scientists have proven that sometimes kids really can’t hear when they are focused on something else.

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“Inattentional deafness” is the new term coined by researchers who proved that a person can become temporarily deaf if they are focusing on a visual task — say, a teenager playing a video game or a dad watching football.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, concluded that because the sense of vision and hearing are located in the same region of the brain, the brain can’t multi-task very well and usually switches one side off to focus on the other.

Nilli Lavie of the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience put it this way in the Telegraph:

“Inattentional deafness is a common experience in everyday life, and now we know why… For example, if you try to talk to someone who is focusing on a book, game or television programme and don’t receive a response, they aren’t necessarily ignoring you, they might simply not hear you. This could also explain why you might not hear your train or bus stop being announced if you’re concentrating on your phone, book or newspaper.”

Lavie, the study co-author, said there could be some big problems that come from the selective senses, such as people concentrating on looking at their GPS for directions who are unable to hear horns honking or even surgeons who are so focused on small stitches that they don’t notice the beeping of a heart monitor.

You know how some people accidentally walk out into traffic while they are looking their cell phones? This could explain that.

“We found that when volunteers were performing the demanding visual task, they were unable to hear sounds that they would normally hear,” another researcher, Maria Chait said of the study, which involved taking brain scans of 13 volunteers who were working on a visually demanding task. “The brain scans showed that people were not only ignoring or filtering out the sounds, they were not actually hearing them in the first place.”

So moms, be patient with your teenagers when they are playing video games. But also be sure to tell them about this new research so they don’t walk out into traffic.

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