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Human Information Processing - How Does the Brain Process Audio or Noise?

Updated on September 29, 2010

Whenever you attend a meeting, it is common that you will not leave the meeting and remember every single detail of what was discussed. This is how human information processing works.The human brain is capable to capture every auditory and visual occurrence, assuming that sight and vision are at a normal range. However, every single sound and image can never be captured simultaneously as the brain is selective in processing certain sounds and images. The brain can simply not handle and process information and every single external stimulation all at once. Because of this, some information captures our attention and other information goes unnoticed. There are several reasons to this, however all of the causes are related to psychological and physiological principles. Audio processes are a crucial part of capturing information, however visual processes contribute to memory and absorbing information, as well.

Whenever a loud enough noise is made, assuming that a person is not deaf or hard of hearing, the sound will be processed in the temporal lobe of the brain. This includes talking, music, insect buzzes, bird chirping, children crying, cars driving by, the air conditioning blowing, rain coming down and so on and so forth. Instantly, the brain is aware that these sounds and noises are occurring, but, not every single ambient sound is recognized and brought to attention because of the thalamus. The thalamus works to filter in important information that your brain deems important. Every visual cue is processed by the occipital lobe in the brain, however certain details and movements may escape our attention if the mind is not actively thinking about the information. (Myron, Harold)

The fact that the thalamus processes and helps sort incoming information is helpful if you’re trying to concentrate on an important task. If you’re focusing on writing a paper and it’s raining outside, chances are you will not be hearing the rain as your primary focus is on the content of the paper. If you were simply idling in a chair, staring into space, chances are - you’re brain will allow you to capture the sound of the rain. The disadvantages of the thalamus filtering out certain parts of sounds or information is that some information that goes unrecognized or unnoticed, whether audibly or visibly, may be important to process information, but the mind simply doesn‘t allow it.  This situation could occur while sitting in a meeting and allowing your mind to wander off and worry about finances or a relationship instead of listening to the information being presented by the speaker. (Myron, Harold)

    In instances such as a meeting, it is sometimes important to consciously practice active listening in order to process and ‘store away’ information that is crucial to success in the workplace. Active listening is sometimes necessary because of the thalamus part of the brain and how it works to sort incoming information. Active listening is something that is commonly practiced in order to have a more effective understanding of situations, concepts and one’s surroundings. By practicing active listening and consciously focusing upon the words and information being presented, one has a much better chance of capturing information as needed. (Active Listening)

    While human information processing may be frustrating at times because you cannot notice (whether audibly or visually) ever single event, it is important to remember that this is the brains way of allowing you to focus on the task at hand. There are exceptions of course, such as pre-occupations about problems that need to be solved, but ultimately the inability to capture every single instance going on around us frees up many resources in the brain to accomplish necessary tasks. Imagine if you could hear every single ambient noise and notice every single detail and movement of your surroundings; this would cause you to not be able to concentrate on any one, important and specific task, making life much more difficult.

Human Information Processing - Works Cited

"Active Listening." Conflict Research Consortium. 1998. 
University of Colorado. 2 July 2009 <>.

Myron, Harold. "Audio and Visual Processes in Brain." 
Audio and Visual Processes. 19 Feb. 2003. Argonne National Laboratory. 
2 July 2009 <>. 


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    • Madeline Madison profile image

      Madeline Madison 6 years ago from Anywhere and Everywhere. Home-base in CT

      I'm wondering if you have come across anything regarding the differences between male and female listening skills. I have tested this theory, and apparently men have more difficulty distinguishing between two different noises than women. For example, I was at a Chili's one evening with a group of friends. The TVs in the bar were loud, as was the radio playing in the background. We girls were able to watch TV and sing along to the song. At one point, the men looked at us puzzled and asked "What the heck are you singing?" After much conversation we women discovered that the men couldn't hear the song AND the TV at the same time. Perhaps women are just better at multi-tasking in the active listening department!

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      Duchess OBlunt 8 years ago

      Oh, I certainly found it interesting! Thank you girly_girl. HubPages is certainly an awesome venue for sharing knowledge. I love what I have read from you so far.

      Keep it up.

    • girly_girl09 profile image

      girly_girl09 8 years ago from United States

      Thanks for reading! :D This was a mini-essay that I wrote for a psych class, but I figured why not throw it online? Maybe someone will find it interesting...and I'm glad you did! I love HP because I can post all of the work I do for class which otherwise would only be read by two or three people.

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 8 years ago from Southern California

      If I continue reading hubs like this, I can claim that elusive college degree. I truly learned something by reading this article. I have never given any thought to the art of active listening. I will certainly put this into practice. Thank you for sharing this information. Excellent, excellent, excellent!