A paper describing how ‘Voice Familiarity Aids Speech Perception in the Presence of a Competing Voice’ – or how to tune into, or ignore, your loved ones – has recently been published in the journal Psychological Science. Bob Carlyon of the CBU who co-authored the paper says “We’ve shown that it’s easier to suppress the voice of your spouse than that of a stranger when listening to a mixture of talkers. But that’s no excuse for ignoring your loved one: if you really want to hear that all-important message about taking the bins out later, you can use what you know about your spouse’s voice to pick out his or her voice from the crowd”.
The research is also covered by a New Scientist article – http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24132-spouses-voice-easy-to-home-in-on-and-easy-to-ignore.html#.UjMOWj_Nnyp
Abstract – People often have to listen to someone speak in the presence of competing voices. Much is known about the acoustic cues used to overcome this challenge, but almost nothing is known about the utility of cues derived from experience with particular voices—cues that may be particularly important for older people and others with impaired hearing. Here, we use a version of the coordinate-response-measure procedure to show that people can exploit knowledge of a highly familiar voice (their spouse’s) not only to track it better in the presence of an interfering stranger’s voice, but also, crucially, to ignore it so as to comprehend a stranger’s voice more effectively. Although performance declines with increasing age when the target voice is novel, there is no decline when the target voice belongs to the listener’s spouse. This finding indicates that older listeners can exploit their familiarity with a speaker’s voice to mitigate the effects of sensory and cognitive decline. http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/08/23/0956797613482467.abstract