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The Cocktail Party Effect

The cocktail party effect. Why do we hear our own name above everything else in a crowded noisy room? Claudia Hammond finds out about pioneering psychologist, Donald Broadbent.

When the psychologist, Donald Broadbent died in 1993 he left a legacy which still influences our understanding of how we process the complex information in the world around us. Broadbent launched the cognitive revolution in psychology in Britain. His belief was that psychology should be applied to practical problems, such as optimising human performance by the design of aircraft cockpits or nuclear reactor control rooms.

With his innovative dichotic listening experiments, Broadbent explained the 'cocktail party effect', where significant information, such as our own name, intrudes on our consciousness, even when it's embedded in noise we're not apparently attending to.

Claudia Hammond talks to psychologists who studied and worked with Broadbent - Professor Susan Gathercole of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Professors Alan Baddeley of York University and Dylan Jones and Andy Smith of Cardiff University and builds a picture of the man and his ground-breaking work, learning that noise has a far greater impact on our efficiency at work than we realise.

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18 minutes