The cocktail party effect and paranormal investigating

The cocktail party effect is a term coined by psychologists for a form of selective hearing. How does this impact us during a paranormal investigation?
Sarah Chumacero
18th April 2018.
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General, Stuff paranormal investigators need to know, Paranormal Investigation.
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Psychologists coined this term as a way to demonstrate a form of selective hearing. It is not something you consciously or knowingly do, it is all to do with your brain.

What is the Cocktail Party Effect

Picture yourself at a party. There is music, there is chatter, there is the sound of people moving around, glasses and plates clanging. It all sounds like noise so it is not something you are paying attention to. Suddenly you hear someone say your name. They could be over the other side of the room having a normal conversation and yet through all of the noise, you have somehow isolated this one word. Your brain has a very unique talent to be able to focus in on information if it is something that is relevant to you. It is an eavesdropper’s delight. It is a form of selective hearing called 'The Cocktail Effect'.

How does this relate to paranormal investigation?

This actually means a lot when it comes to paranormal investigating. We as humans get very used to our surroundings. If we are at a location, we wouldn’t so much notice all the little sounds. We are effectively tuning them out because they are not relevant to us according to our brain. The thing is though, when we are recording video and audio during an, they do not tune these things out. They record them as they are. When you play back a recording, you may find yourself noticing a bunch of sounds that were picked up by your recorder that you didn’t notice at the time. These may be perceived as ‘paranormal’ because it is something you didn’t notice at the time. Especially if it sounds like a whisper. The whole point of a EVP is the notion that you can record a session and when you play it back, you may possibly hear a voice that you didn’t hear at the time and the general consensus is that it could be a spirit communicating with you. Taking the Cocktail Party Effect into consideration, you quite possibly did hear this voice, it could have been someone in another room, but as it was part of the natural ambient background, but you tuned it out because it wasn’t relevant or what your brain was looking for at the time.

We also perceive and hear things at different rate. This means you could have 5 people in a room all hearing the same things. Our hearing is all different and so is our selective hearing. This is why maybe only 2 people heard what sounded like something and the other people in the room didn’t hear it. It could just mean that they were tuned out and not that something paranormal was potentially happening.

This can also apply when reviewing evidence. It is quite a long a tedious process that can take hours upon hours of finding nothing. Think of when you are reading a long article or even something simple as looking over your horoscopes. You tend to skip past the information that is not relevant to you because you are only looking for your horoscope or that of a loved one because it is relevant to you. When we have a large amount of information in front us such as a bunch of evidence from an investigation, we tend to only notice things that fit our expectations. Perhaps it is something completely natural, but because we are looking so hard to find some sort of anomaly, we are potentially making something fit what we want to see.


So how to we avoid all of this? As we know there are so many tricks our brains can play on us. This is yet another one. Awareness is key. Just even knowing this information is one step forward. When recording EVP’s for example, a great thing to do is to allow the recorder to run for a minute or 2 before you start your session, so you can get used to the surroundings. That way when you are reviewing your audio, you are also adjusting to these sounds and you are less likely to pick one out through selective hearing. Investigate with a level head and question everything. Go into an investigation and take special note of all the little sounds and all the little things. By making a concious effort, you are making these sounds more relevant to your brain and they are more likely to take notice of them in the future.

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