By Nick Collins, Science Correspondent 5:26PM GMT 06 Mar 2013
As any guest at a drinks reception knows, catching someone’s attention from the other side of a crowded room is virtually impossible.
Now scientists claim to have solved the mystery of the “cocktail party problem” by showing that people’s brains filter out background voices to concentrate on the person they are trying to listen to.
It explains why calling someone’s name over the hubbub of chattering party guests is not just ill mannered but spectacularly futile.
Writing in the Neuron journal, experts from Columbia University explained that brain waves are shaped in a way that allows us to focus on selected sound patterns while ignoring similar ones around us.