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60-Second Science

Tinnitus Sufferers Should Tune Out

Distraction appears to be an effective technique to avoid the phantom noise of tinnitus. Chelsea Wald reports. For more on the latest tinnitus research, check out the November 1, 2007, edition of the 60-Second Psych podcast at sciam.com/podcast

No one ever sits in silence these days. But if we did, many of us would experience tinnitus—that is, phantom noise. It’s normally a high ringing like this: [tone]. But it can sound like crickets [crickets sound], or buzzing [buzzer sound], or music [music clip]. Now a Brazilian study has found that people won’t hear these noises as much if they simply aren’t listening. Volunteers with normal hearing were put in soundproofed rooms. When they focused on listening, almost 70 percent heard phantom noises. But when they focused on seeing, only 45 percent heard noises. And when solving a puzzle, only 20 percent heard noises.

Some people have constant, debilitating tinnitus. For them, this study suggests that therapies to divert attention from hearing could help. For everyone else, well, the best way to avoid tinnitus might be just not to listen very hard. In fact, you should probably forget about this program altogether. Oh, and don’t think about pink elephants.

—Chelsea Wald

For more on the latest tinnitus research, check out the November 1, 2007, edition of the 60-Second Psych podcast at sciam.com/podcast

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