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Colin Cherry

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Edward Colin Cherry (1914 – 1979) was a British cognitive scientist whose main contributions were in focused auditory attention, specifically regarding the cocktail party problem. This concerns the problem of following only one conversation while many other conversations are going on around us. Cherry used shadowing tasks to study this problem, which involve playing two different auditory messages to a participant's left and right ears and instructing them to attend to only one. The participant must then shadow this attended message.

Cherry found that very little information about the unattended message was obtained by his participants: physical characteristics were detected but semantic characteristics were not. Cherry therefore concluded that unattended auditory information receives very little processing and that we use physical differences between messages to select which one we attend to.

He was educated at St Albans School (Hertfordshire) and Northampton Polytechnic (now City University) gaining his B.Sc. in 1936. After the war, during which he worked on radar research with the British Ministry of Aircraft Production, he taught at the Manchester College of Technology and then Imperial College, London. He was awarded the D.Sc. in 1956 and was appointed to the Chair of Telecommunications at Imperial College in 1968. In 1978 he was elected to a Marconi International Fellowship. His writings include On Human Communication (1957) and World Communication: Threat or Promise (1971)

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