Question Sheet: Cacophony Acoustics


Before reading:

  1. Why is hearing important for animals? 
  2. What do you do when a room is too loud for you to hear the people you’re

    trying to listen to?

During reading:

  1. Describe the “cocktail party problem” in your own words. 
  2. Why would Mark Bee, the scientist who studies the cocktail party problem,

    focus on tree frogs? 

  3. What did Bee discover from his experiments? 
  4. What is noise pollution? 
  5. What things to people do that create noise pollution? 
  6. How does noise pollution threaten animals? 
  7. How could the ability to tell different sounds apart save an animal’s life?

After reading:

  1. Why would different species of frogs make different sounds? What advantage

    do gray tree frogs, for example, get from sounding different than other frog


  2. How good are humans at distinguishing sounds? Design an experiment that

    would test your friends’ abilities to differentiate sounds. 

  3. For one minute, don’t talk. Just listen and make a list of all the noises

    you hear. (Be sure to listen for quiet or continuous sounds such as those from a

    heater or a fan.) How many of them were you aware of immediately, and how many took some time for you to notice? 

  4. Some scientists study how animals hear in order to understand how people

    hear. What are the advantages and disadvantages of studying animals when we want to understand people?


  1. Can noise really be pollution? In a two-paragraph essay, compare and

    contrast noise pollution and another form of pollution, such as air pollution. 

  2. Name one place where you think tree frogs could live and be safe from noise

    pollution. Name another place where noise pollution would be a problem for frogs that live there.


  1. Could noise pollution in your neighborhood be a problem for tree frogs? If

    so, write a letter to a local government official about the dangers of noise


  2. Have you ever thought that someone was listening to you when you didn’t want

    them to? Write an instruction manual that explains at least three ways to use

    sound to keep someone from “eavesdropping” (intentionally overhearing). Don’t

    forget an easy way: whisper!


Imagine your two best friends are singing in a chorus, and you are trying to hear them. But you are having difficulty identifying their voices, because there are other people in the chorus who are singing the same words. If the number of people in the chorus doubles, the

chance that you’ll be able to identify your friend’s voices decreases by half.

Let’s say that there are five people (including your two friends) in the chorus at first, and you have 100% accuracy in identifying their voices. Then the chorus grows in size to 10 people, and you have a 50% chance. How large can the chorus get before you have less than a 10% chance of identifying your friend’s voices?