Various Veins

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Did you hear about a new study that finds people are able to tune out one voice in order to listen to another? It was done by researchers at Queen’s University in Kingston.

The researchers selected 26 couples who have been married at least 18 years.

Wait! I'm not going to tell you how they did the test. Like most psychological tests you have to wonder if the way a test is conducted really sheds any light on everyday life. This one, entitled Swinging at a Cocktail Party, seems to be of that sort.

Anyway, while trying to read the article I found myself losing the thread and wandering in memory to scenes that happened as long ago as half a century. This interference in present activity by moments from the past accounts for a lot of tuning out that gets one snarked at by one's spouse.

"I told you to feed the dog. You never listen!"

"I do so listen, but when you are going to tell me to do something, say, 'Listen, I'm asking you to do something.'"

Then make sure I got it. Ask me, "What did I ask you to do?"

Reader, you know what it's like when someone says something to you when you are engrossed in a book.

Do you ever, while listening to and watching news, take your mind's eye off the screen to look at a scene in memory that's triggered by the present item? Then you try to pick up the thread and find you've missed several seconds and it's time for a commercial or six. When I am especially interested in the item I'll play a few games of solitaire and catch it again in the next hourly news. It annoys me to no end when I miss it again.

Or as may happen, find it wasn't worth the wait!

I'm told that the longer a couple live together the more likely it is their auditory sense gets so accustomed to the spouse's voice it turns the sound off. The same thing happens to drivers who hear a train whistle on a regular schedule. It can be fatal when the driver is half way across a railway track.

We who wear hearing aids, when we first are fitted, are driven to scream by the clatter of pottery, cutlery clanging against china, grating of furniture on floors. Voices, especially in large rooms where echoes add to the cacophony lose all patterns of speech in the general hubbub.

It's true that if you stick with it for a week or two the brain sorts out what to send to the conscious mind and what to ignore. But it seems more the common experience is to park the pesky things on a shelf.

My late brother would wait for someone to finish what is being said, but he wouldn't have heard a word. He was simply waiting for an opening to talk about something important.

It' alleged that I share my brother's trait.

From time to time my mom would visit our home at the same time as another dear friend. We would listen in pure amazement to them talk at the same time, obviously believing the other was following the conversation. In fact they would be on totally different trajectories, finish their visit and happily take their leave. How do you explain that?

Much of what I've written isn't to do with long-married couples, but I suggest there are processes in the mind that are not limited to couples, they are universal.

Spouses probably get into moments of testy accusations because they take these failures as personal slights.

If you really loved me, you wouldn't treat me like this!


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