Things Are Not Always As They Seem

Watch the following clip CAREFULLY and then decide what you think you heard first time round.

The phenomenon known as the McGurk effect demonstrates how the brain can take differing visual and auditory signals and generate a new phenomenological experience. Richard Wiseman wasn’t so sure it worked and I think it depends on whether you are familiar with the English accent – not that  I have one anyway.

Still I’d be really interested in your comments. Tell me also which country you live in and whether you are bi-lingual. These may turn out to be important factors.

33 Comments

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33 responses to “Things Are Not Always As They Seem

  1. I heard only b’s.

    I don’t think the lighting in the video is good enough, though I did at the end notice something was up.

    A similar test has turned out the same way for me in the past.

    • brucehood

      Hmm.. are you bi-lingual? I expect that the effect primarily dependent on having a pretty unique mapping between phonemes and visual mouth shape. That said the effect has been demonstrated in infants for “ba” and “da”

  2. Paul Murray

    I heard only b’s as well. I’m from the Midwest so I don’t know if that has anything to do with it.

    England and America are two countries separated by a common language. –George Bernard Shaw

  3. I heard the real thing. Although it was confusing.

  4. Not bilingual btw. Just english.

  5. polomint38

    Heard correctly, although bad lip synch.
    Native Londoner and not bilingual.

  6. polomint38

    Listened to other videos on utube, with people saying BaBaBa, mouthing GaGaGa and it sounding as DaDaDa.
    Even when you know, you still here it incorrectly.
    Fascinating.

  7. I heard vet vat and boat,
    Australian, from Northern Territory, monolingual

  8. Arno

    I heard the b’s. And yes, Bruce, I like to claim that I am bilingual.

  9. neuralgourmet

    I heard vet, but also bat and boat when watching the video. When listening to the audio only the ‘beh’ sounds seem much more pronounced.

    FWIW, I’ve also noticed that when I tell people my first name in person they often mishear it as ‘Neal’. It is in fact, ‘Leo’. Yet over the phone, very few people mishear it. This has always struck me as odd because there’s very little congruence (in my mind) between the ‘lee’ and ‘nee’ sounds when they’re pronounced but now that I think of it, the position of the lips is exactly the same. The only thing that changes is the position of the tongue. So maybe there is a McGurk effect.

    If there is though, I expect far from being dependent on familiarity with British accents, it had more to do with expectation. For instance, in my case, Neal is a much more common name than Leo so when people see and hear me say my name the expectation may be that the combination of those sounds and mouth movements more often represent the former than the latter.

    Anyway, just speculating. I’m from upstate New York, and don’t consider myself bilingual.

    • polomint38

      My niece’s name is Collette and is mistaken for Clare, expectations for the common name.

      Although my name Bruce is perfect and without reproach!

  10. I heard Vet, Bat and Boat. I’m a Kiwi/Aussie and only speak the Queen’s English

  11. Bs all the way. It isn’t always best to take the boat, by the way, I have seen Titanic and it can end very unpleasantly.

  12. I heard B’s as well.

    I think you enunciate very clearly, for a “non-american.” ;)

  13. I forgot to mention, Bruce: you do have a very lovely voice!

  14. Kel

    I’m an Australian and I heard the b-sounding words as opposed to the v-sounding words.

  15. Canadian living in Scotland – I heard only the ‘b’ sounds both ways.

    I’m monolingual, but I’m also a phonetician.

    We get taught about the McGurk effect in undergrad linguistics courses. Generally, it’s the b/d/g illusion we’re shown – I haven’t seen b/v used to illustrate the effect before. Where did you come across it?

    • brucehood

      Yes, I know the ba/ga version but I came across a paper that had investigated the phenomenon in whole words and I wanted to see if it works. I think I can do a better version if I get the edit sorted. There again the trouble is that once you know the effect it is difficult to ignore as you shift selective attention to the auditory channel.

      Will try again.

  16. Mary

    I read lips and saw the v’s. I didn’t see him close his lips to form the b’s.

  17. De Calvert

    I did pick up the “b”s. Could it be my American “ear?”

  18. Zach

    I’m from the US and thought I heard V’s. I am a native English speaker that also speaks fluent Spanish.

    Since the B and V sound are so similar in Spanish, one often has to use context to distinguish the two. I think that may have been what my mind did.

    • brucehood

      Hm. that’s really interesting to know…it would seem that language experience seems to be playing a big role in the illusion.

  19. Richard Adhikari

    Sorry to disappoint old McGurk. I heard it all clearly. No mistake at all. But I agree with you that what people think they see or hear is often at odds with what they actually saw or heard – remember the old psychology lecture test where someone runs into a class full of psych students chased by someone else, they seem to fight, with a lot of yelling and screaming, then one of the combatants pulls out a gun and pulls the trigger and a flag bearing the word ‘bang’ pops out, then they all exit running? No two witnesses gave the same account of what had transpired.

  20. JB

    American (Southern California) 50+ years

    – hear V’s the 1st time thru, then B’s on the 2nd pass – same thing every time i view the video

    took some Spanish in grade school, some Russian in college – spoken nothing but “English” since then

  21. I heard all Vs all the way.

    I’m Canadian and only speak English.

    Very interesting!

  22. teobesta

    I heard vet, bad (wondering what you could possibly mean) and boat. Eleven languages swimming in my head (not fluent in all) with English being (officially anyway) my fourth.
    What I often wonder about though is why people keep thinking/spelling/pronouncing my name as TeobAsta even if I tell them time and time again that it’s TeobEsta.

  23. Beelzebufo

    It was so bizarre to watch that. The first time through I could hear both the b and the v in some sort of stereo effect. It sounded like vbet, vbat, vboat. I thought I was just having trouble with your accent. But I watched it again and now I can only hear the b sound. I live in the US and am bilingual.

  24. Joeybean

    I am a 50-year-old American now living in South Carolina and a native speaker of American English. I am nearly bilingual with Japanese, having lived in Japan for almost 25 years. The Japanese language does not have a true “v” sound. Possibly because I am sensitive to this point, I immediately caught the overdubbed recording of “b” pronunciations with “v” visual expressions.

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