Tuning Out Spouses: Science Says Ignoring Your Better Half Is What We’re Wired To Do

By Philip Ross on August 31, 2013 5:52 PM EDT

marriage
Tuning out your spouse is natural, say researchers in Canada. (Photo: Flickr/Naixn)

Ever earned yourself a night in the doghouse because you forgot, after she told you three times, to pick up that much-needed dish detergent from the grocery store on your way home from work? Or neglected to take the garbage cans out for the fourth week in a row? Apparently, tuning out our spouses isn't our fault. New research says that ignoring our better halves is simply what we're wired to do.

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Researchers from Queen's University in Canada say we're not to blame for tuning out our husbands or wives' voices from time to time. After studying the behavior of married couples between the ages of 44 and 79, and playing recordings of each partner's voice for the other against that of a stranger's voice, the researchers concluded that middle-aged couples are very good at tuning out their spouses in order to hear a stranger talk.

The pattern, however, declined with age. The Calgary Herald reports that older couples found it harder to distinguish two voices apart, and were more inclined to pay attention to a familiar voice - that of a spouse.


It's simply that our spouses' voices are so familiar to us - the pitch and sound are so distinct - that it's easier to just tune it out.

"The benefit of familiarity is very large," Dr. Ingrid Johnsrude, who led the study, told The Telegraph. "It's on the order of the benefit you see when trying to perceptually distinguish two sounds that come from different locations compared to sounds that come from the same location."

"Middle-aged people can ignore their spouse; older people aren't able to as much," Johnsrude said. "These findings speak to a problem that is very common among older individuals: difficulty hearing speech when there is background sound. Our study identifies a cognitive factor -- voice familiarity -- that could help older listeners to hear better in these situations."

Sorry, all we heard was "it's not your fault." Thanks, science, for giving us an excuse next time we forget to walk the dog!

Read more from iScience Times:

Men And Thrill Seeking: Study Finds Guys Have Grown Timid, Are Less Likely To Try Extreme Activities

Women And Funny Guys: Are Females Genetically Hardwired To Find Sense Of Humor In Men Sexy? [STUDY]

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