When Hearing Is Better Than Seeing: The Power of the Ear Exposed

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There’s no doubt that vision plays a huge part in how the world is perceived. This is so much the case, in fact, that most people immediately answer “deaf” when asked whether they’d choose blindness or deafness. In reality, the auditory system is much more complex relative to vision than most people believe. Here are just a few examples of why.

Frame Rates and the Precedence Effect

Nowhere are the limitations of the eye relative to the ear more apparent than when comparing frame rate, measured in frames per second (FPS), to the precedence effect. If 10 still images were flashed in one second (10 FPS), people can distinguish between the photos. Once a rate of 12 FPS is exceeded, though, it’s more likely the person will perceive motion rather than images.

A comparable measure in hearing occurs with the precedence effect. If two sounds occur back to back with a sufficiently small amount of time between them, humans hear a single auditory image. For this to occur, though, the time interval may have to be as low as 10 milliseconds. Additionally, it’s still possible to hear ascension or descension in the sound — it just appears as a single tone.

McGurk Effect

Everyone has been fooled by optical illusions. Something similar is possible when listening to audio, but this occurrence is much rarer. In fact, it takes a bit of visual trickery to fool the human ear via the McGurk Effect.

To put it simply, the McGurk Effect occurs when a listener hears a word but sees different visual cues. If the word “bar” is spoken while someone’s lips move as if making an “F” sound, for instance, the listener typically will “hear” the word “far” instead.

This means that, just like the eye, the human ear can be fooled, but it takes a little visual help to pull it off.

“Seeing” the World Through Audio

The comic book character Daredevil can “visualize” the world around him through his hearing. As it turns out, every human is capable of this to some extent. When visual input is unclear, audio cues will create a world around the listener.

Even people with perfect eyesight experience this when surrounded by darkness. Individuals who lose their ability to hear, on the other hand, have to learn entirely new skills, such as sign language or lip reading. This is less the case when visual cues are absent.

Vision is an important sense for all who have it, but this doesn’t mean hearing is less valuable. Science has proven that people can “see” without vision via audio cues, so while humans might lean on their eyes to sense the world around them, always remember that hearing is just as important.

Backtracks’ podcast analytics and podcast platform allows you to see the world of spoken word audio and podcasts through audio and data. If you’re curious what we’re up to check us out.

Sources

Blind or Deaf?, Frame Rates, Precedence Effect, McGurk Effect, ‘Seeing’ With Ears

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