This Week in Research: Losing Weight & The “Cocktail Party Effect”

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Good news for party talkers:  Even in a noisy, chaotic environment, most people are able to zero in on a conversation with a particular person without too much trouble. Which, if you think about it, is a pretty sophisticated cognitive process, and one that’s being studied by researchers at the University of Maryland (among other places).

It’s called the “cocktail party effect,” and here’s how it works:  In a noisy room, the brain first has to sort out the various sounds and decide which ones are worth paying attention to and which ones should be filtered out. This is, of course, not a conscious process. To figure out how it actually works, the UM researchers used electrocorticography, which is a recording device consisting of electrodes arranged over the brain’s lateral cortex. Once the implant was in place, the surgery patients were given “a cocktail party-like comprehension task.” The researchers found that listeners used both low- and high-frequency signals to track their targeted speaker. “We’re quite pleased to see both the low frequency and high frequency neural responses working together,” said UM researcher (and study co-author) Jonathan Simon, “since our earlier MEG results were only able to detect the low frequency components.”

Simon next plans to apply these findings to studies of how the brain adapts to damaged hearing or aging.

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Losing weight is often a struggle, but there’s a silver lining to that difficulty:  according to recent research from Johns Hopkins, people who lose weight early in life may actually help their hearts repair the damage that had been done so far.

Johns Hopkins cardiologists tested the hypothesis in mice, and the results were striking. When younger, overweight mice lost weight, they were able to repair the damage to their hearts; the older mice, not so much — even if they shed the exact same amount of weight.

“People shouldn’t wait until they have major problems,” said Hopkins cardiologist Lili Barouch. “They should always try to lose weight as soon as possible.”



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