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What our brains do when our senses conflict:

HT: Gene Veith, who adds some further details.


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7 thoughts on “The McGurk Effect: Is Seeing Believing?”

  1. Jeff Baxter says:

    Reminds me of those folks following Jesus around that wanted to see a sign and Jesus tells them it would not matter if they saw a sign OR the folks today who say if they saw Jesus physically they would believe. Seeing is not always believing. It is by grace through faith that we are saved!

  2. JPManning says:

    I wonder what would happen if this same clip were played to a man from a culture that did not have a “v” sound. I think the reason our brain transfers the “b” to a “v” is because we are used to it. Very interesting.

  3. My brain was transferring “b” to “f”. Does this mean I am messed up differently than you, JP? :)

  4. Modern ventriloquits have known about this for decades. For language, sound replacement works in the context of understandable language. For a character stuck in a box that has no visible oral cues, the ventriloquist can say, “Hel’! Hel’! Ein stuck in this thox! Ge’ knee oudda here!” and the audience will translate the voice apparently coming from the box to say, “Help! Help! I’m stuck in this box! Get me out of here!”

    I would have to observe, though, that what our eyes see doesn’t change what we hear, it modifies it with additional information. It’s actually fairly difficult to distinguish between “fa” and “ba” by ear alone. The visual cues act to help us tell which one it is. Most people are aided in comprehension by being able to see a speaker’s lips.

    This is why enunciation is so important in performing arts. For example, good vocalists typically spend time practicing not singing, “…lead a snot into temptation,” when singing the Lord’s Prayer. As a musician I occasionally run sound at church. It is important to set the equalizer for amplifying speakers in such a way as to help emphasize consonants so people can understand what they are saying without being able to see their lips up close. Likewise, in the military, NCOs barking commands learn to do vocal gymnastics to make their yelled commands understandable: “Yoit hace! Yorwerd Hyarch! Yet Yoit! Yo Doit!” Along with a little singing, this is heard as “Right face! Forward march! Left Right! Left Right!”

  5. Michael Carnicella says:

    I was hearing ‘va’ but my wife was hearing ‘fa’. What does this mean?

  6. Michael Carnicella says:

    After thinking about it more, I think you should definitely be hearing ‘va’ because your top teeth should come over your bottom teeth when you make a ‘v’ sound. say ‘van’. If you want to make an ‘f’ sound your bottom lip should remain outside of your top teeth. say ‘first’. It seems to me that he is clearing making the movement of a ‘v’ and not an ‘f’.

  7. I;m with Jim Pemberton. The problem is not that we are changing what we think we heard, but that we didn’t know what we heard in the first place. We have to use context to translate sound into tokens(letters and words) then we translate tokens into ideas. This is not an optical illusion it’s verbal deception. Like if you ask a person why they’re wearing a hat today and they say, “I have red-head.” You know that whether they said “red” or “bed” is irrelevant; the context tells you he said “bed-head”. (even if he didn’t)(;

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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