Some People Hear What They See—”Visual Ear” May Occur in Up to 20% of All People, More Common in Musicians Than Others; Disinhibition of Pre-Existing Neural Cross-Connections May Explain Why Some Hear the “Skipping Pylon” GIF

A synesthesia-like effect in which people “hear” silent flashes or movement, such as in popular “noisy GIFs” and memes, could be due to a reduction of inhibition of signals that travel between visual and auditory areas of the brain, according to a new study led by researchers at City, University of London. (Synesthesia is the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body.) The new study is the first to provide insight into the brain mechanisms underpinning such auditory sensations also known as a “visually-evoked auditory response” (also known as vEAR or “visual ear”). Whilst one theory is that areas of the brain responsible for visual and auditory processing normally compete, this research suggests that they may actually cooperate in people who report “visual ear.” It was also found that musicians taking part in the study were significantly more likely to report experiencing visual ear than non-musician participants. This could be because musical training may promote joint attention to both the sound of music and the sight of the coordinated movements of the conductor or other musicians. Dr Elliot Freeman, Principal Investigator on the study and a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University said: "We already knew that some people hear what they see. Car indicator lights, flashing neon shop signs, and people's movements as they walk may all trigger an auditory sensation. Our latest study reveals normally-occurring individual differences in how our senses of vision and hearing interact. We found that people with 'visual ears' can use both senses together to see and also 'hear' silent motion, while, for others, hearing is inhibited when watching such visual sequences."
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