Special neurons in the brainstem of rats focus exclusively on new, novel sounds and help them ignore predictable and ongoing noises, a new study finds.
The same process likely occurs in humans and may affect our speech and even help us laugh.
The novelty detector neurons seem to act as gatekeepers... preventing information about unimportant sounds from reaching the brain's cortex, where higher processing occurs. This allows people to ignore sounds that don't require attention.
I wish my "novelty detector neurons" had kicked into action a bit more quickly during the Wind Band concert Friday night. Somebody directly behind me sneezed during the 4th piece (of 10) on the program, and proceeded to sniffle (we're talking a big, long SNNNIIIIIFFFFFFF approximately every 3 seconds) for the rest of the concert. The piece during which the sniffling began was a quieter selection, and at times the extraneous noise actually drowned out the music.
If your nose is running that badly, use a Kleenex or your sleeve or something. Or get up and leave the concert so you won't distract those around you. Please.