I hear what you say! Or do I?

Even with an acute sense of hearing adults don’t always pick up exactly what someone has said, a new study suggests.

Researchers discovered that even with an acute sense of hearing adults don’t always pick up exactly what someone has said
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Researchers discovered that even with an acute sense of hearing adults don’t always pick up exactly what someone has said

This is because from childhood to adulthood, people rely on vision to understand speech and this can influence our perception of sound.

The study, carried out by PhD student Rebecca Hirst, from the University of Nottingham, in collaboration with her colleauges Dr Harriet Allen and Dr Lucy Cragg and Jemaine Stacey and Dr Paula Stacey from Nottingham Trent University, shows there is a developmental shift in sensory dominance as children grow older.

In 1976 the McGurk effect demonstrated the interaction of hearing and vision in speech perception. When we hear one syllable, but we see the mouth movement of another syllable, this leads us to perceive a third syllable.

Additionally, if a person is getting poor quality auditory information but good quality visual information, they may be more likely to experience the McGurk effect.

It’s down to the way our brain develops

Researchers predicted that younger children would be less susceptible to McGurk responses and that adults would continue to be influenced by vision in higher levels of visual noise and with less auditory noise.

This is due to a part of the brain - which is responsible for auditory information - developing earlier than a part of the brain, which is responsible for processing visual information.

It is also due to children gaining more visual experience across childhood, (for example, when reading.)

The study showed that susceptibility to the McGurk effect was higher in adults compared with 3–6-year-olds and 7–9-year-olds but not 10–12-year-olds.

Adults and older children were more easily influenced by vision.

Reduced susceptibility in childhood supports the theory that sensory dominance shifts across development and reaches adult-like levels by 10 years of age.

Rebecca designed a ‘spy’ game called ‘Spot the Sound’ to launch her study during a science event for young children and their parents.

They recruited 96 children at the event and separated them into three age groups 3-6 years; 7-9 years; and 10-12 years. They were joined by 32 adults aged between 20 and 35 years of age.

Rebecca, a PhD student in the University of Nottingham’s School of Psychology, said: “Our findings show that children rely more on auditory information. This means they are less susceptible to illusions in which vision changes sound. Conversely, adults are more likely to be influenced by what they see, and what they see can change what they hear."

Future research could focus on how much visual or auditory experience drives changes in perception for example, screen time or musical experience. Our findings are important for understanding how children perceive the world differently to adults and how this might influence the information they pay attention to.

Jemaine Stacey, a PhD student in Nottingham Trent University's School of Social Sciences.

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I hear what you say! Or do I?

Published on 28 August 2018
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Social Sciences

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