Can you “hear” visual motion? If so, you’re hardly alone. There’s a huge Reddit community of 114,000-plus people who post and discuss silent videos that have the illusion of making noise.
And now a new study in the journal Cortex finds around 20 to 30 percent of people will experience an auditory sensation when they view moving, energetic — but silent — GIFs like this:
Psychologist Chris Fassnidge, the lead author of the Cortex study, calls this weirdly common phenomenon vEAR, or “visually evoked auditory response.” He and his co-authors believe it may be a new form of synesthesia, the rare neurological phenomenon wherein different sensory experiences are connected.
Even if it’s not precisely synesthesia, vEAR may be a window onto a better way to understand how all our senses are complexly connected. It’s possible that just like we combine taste and smell to get a complete experience of flavor, we may in part hear with our eyes.
“The more we learn about the brain,” says Fassnidge, who recently completed his PhD at City University of London, “the more we learn it’s a very multisensory organ and that the senses can influence one another.”
What is synesthesia?
In people with synesthesia, activation of one sense triggers perception of another. The classic example is people who see a different color for different letters of the alphabet or for different numbers. In others, sounds will take on color.
There’s a form of synesthesia where certain sounds produce physical sensations on the skin and in the body. It’s believed these crossovers happen because neurons from one area of the brain are highly connected to another, or because the connections between the brain areas are easily triggered. And it’s pretty rare: Around 3 percent of people have these forms of synesthesia.
Similarly, vEAR could be a crossover of the visual and auditory systems of the brain. And the experience of it “varies from person to person,” Fassnidge says. “Some people describe it as a buzzing sound in their head. For other people, it’s kind of like a white noise. And then other people say it varies depending on what it is they are looking at.”
There are only a handful of studies on vEAR; the first one was published in 2008. Though the work is early, the published papers on vEAR suggest it’s a common phenomenon, with around 20 to 30 percent of people reporting hearing silent images.
“A lot of people don’t realize they have this thing until you start testing for it in the laboratory,” Fassnidge says. In the study in Cortex, the scientists had participants view 24 GIFs and rate if they noticed an auditory sensation on a scale of 0 to 5. Those who rated more than half of the GIFs at a level of 3 or above were considered to have experienced vEAR.
We may not think about the sound visual motion makes because sound and motion co-occur all the time. “Maybe because they co-occur so frequently you either aren’t aware of the mental sound until you strip away everything else,” Fassnidge says.
In the GIF above depicting the transmission towers jumping rope, I noticed a slight thudding sound. At first, I thought I was just noticing my heartbeat. But then I counted: The power line is jumping at 52 beats per minute; my heart is going at 72. “It would be odd that your heartbeat would be syncing with what you are seeing so closely,” he says. For me, the experience is weirder than the normal experience of hearing. It’s somewhere at the hazy intersection between a real sensation and imagination. (I don’t hear anything with the other GIFs.)
The rising popularity of GIFs (which are really just silent slices of film) seems to have made many people aware of the sensation for the first time. The Reddit forum /r/noisygifs is filled with people posting and discussing the GIFs that fill their heads with sounds. It’s part of a growing trend: The internet is proving to be an intriguing space for people to gather and discuss the peculiarities of human perception. There are millions of people who watch YouTube ASMR videos to experience a mysterious tingling sensation. In the past, these people perhaps would have just kept their unusual experience to themselves. Today, they can share.
How do I know if I have vEAR?
You can test yourself for vEAR with this survey here. It’s similar to what Fassnidge and his PhD adviser Elliot Freeman used in their new study in Cortex. The survey shows you GIFs, and all you have to do is rate how much of an auditory sensation each one elicits.
With data from more than 4,100 participants (some volunteer, some paid; it’s not a representative sample), the pair found that the experience of vEAR is very common. But they also found certain moving images provoke the experience more than others.
GIFs that predicted sounds (like the power line towers jumping rope above) were more likely to produce vEAR. So were GIFs that had a higher intensity of motion, like this glittering disco ball (Freeman says in an email this GIF produced one of the strongest responses in the survey).
People who report getting pieces of music stuck in their heads often (a.k.a. earworms) are also more likely to experience vEAR. “It might be that their auditory cortex is more excitable,; it doesn’t stop working,” Fassnidge says. It’s also more common in people who have other forms of synesthesia, suggesting something similar is going on.
Why would people “hear” what they see?
As with any new field of scientific study, there are a few alternative hypotheses to explain vEAR.
Fassnidge admits that his survey may be “observing several different effects at once,” and that there are overlapping explanations for why a person might hear a silent GIF.
For some people, the experience might be a true synesthesia that they can’t turn off. Other people might just be highly suggestible and using their imaginations to hear the sounds (or people who sense something in the realm between noise and imagination). It’s also possible that some of the people in the survey were just being agreeable and responding with what they thought the researchers wanted to hear.
Another part of the effect can be the result of learning: We’ve learned to expect certain sounds when we see certain objects in motion. We expect a ball bouncing on a court to make a bouncy noise, and so when we see it happen, our imaginations fill in the gaps. But even when Fassnidge and Freeman strip GIFs of all real-world connotations, and just show participants simple blinking lights, around 20 percent of study participants will say they hear something.
The follow GIF mimics the vibration pattern in the jumping power cable GIF but has no real-world images. Do you still hear anything? I don’t.
In another study of people who self-reported experiencing vEAR, Fassnidge and Freeman played faint audio while the participants watched flashes of light. The flashes of light, they thought, would be the simplest visual cue to provoke the vEAR, and the least weighed down with connections to things that make noise in the real world. “The people who reported being able to hear the visual events were more inclined to miss the auditory sound if it coincided with the flash,” Fassnidge says. “The imagined sound masks the real sound.” That makes them suspect vEAR is indeed working on the auditory system in the brain.
Is this really synesthesia?
There are a few clues that vEAR may not be exactly the same thing as other types of synesthesia. Other types tend to have very specific pairings, like the letter A being linked with the color red. “It’s hard to get that level of specificity with the auditory sensations,” Fassnidge says. More work needs to be done to try to pin down the phenomenon and trace how it works in the brain.
But at the very least, the phenomenon does illustrate how deeply the areas of the brain are connected.
Consider how blind people can achieve a certain sense of vision restored with special electrodes that attach to their tongue. These sensory substitution devices, as they are called, translate the visual world into small zaps of electricity users can feel on a grid placed on their tongue. Studies suggest these devices actually stimulate the visual areas of the brain. “It’s not biological vision as we know it, but it’s visual information conveyed to the visual cortex,” Fassnidge says.
Similarly, if electrical stimulation from the eyes happens to stimulate the auditory center of our brains, “it becomes more a philosophical question: Is that hearing?” Fassnidge says. Maybe.
And the research could perhaps help us explain why art forms that work upon many of our senses, like dance, are so appealing. In dance, music is timed with motion. “Why is that so pleasing to us as a species? is it because it is ticking all these neurological boxes?” Fassnidge wonders.
There are so many little curiosities about how we perceive the world. I’ve sworn that my eyes see slightly different variations of color. There are people who claim to have no internal eye, no ability to imagine physical objects that aren’t in front of them. Other people have trouble memorizing faces. Perception is our interface with the world, and the peculiarities of it make for fascinating research.
“Everyone has a strange thing about how they perceive the world,” Fassnidge says. “It gets people engaged in a way that a lot of other neuroscience topics don’t. It fires up their imaginations.”
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Scientists have discovered why a 'visual ear' phenomenon lets some people 'hear' silent gif images such as the famous 'skipping pylon' animation. A new study has suggested the remarkable 'synaesthesia-like effect' is caused by interference between areas of the brain responsible for processing sight and sound.Why do I hear sounds in GIFs? ›
Psychologist Chris Fassnidge, the lead author of the Cortex study, calls this weirdly common phenomenon vEAR, or “visually evoked auditory response.” He and his co-authors believe it may be a new form of synesthesia, the rare neurological phenomenon wherein different sensory experiences are connected.Are GIFs silent? ›
Though all GIFs are silent, that doesn't stop some people from hearing them. As Niall Firth reports for New Scientist, the largest study to date of the phenomenon—called visually evoked auditory response or vEAR—shows that more than 20 percent of the 4000 people surveyed find GIFs quite noisy.Can we hear images? ›
Observers are literally "listening to data." The noise emitted is actually the noise that the image is making as it translates, pixel by pixel, from sound to light. "It's really a low bass rumble," Brown says. Apparently, photos sound like white noise.Why can I hear silent videos? ›
Previous research has shown that the phenomenon is a form of synesthesia, where the stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway automatically provokes the stimulation of another.What is auditory synesthesia? ›
Auditory-visual synesthesia occurs when auditory stimuli elicit visual sensations. It has developmental, induced and acquired varieties. The acquired variety has been reported in association with deafferentation of the visual system as well as temporal lobe pathology with intact visual pathways.Are there GIFs that have sound? ›
GIFs with sound are referred to as 'Audio GIFs.Why can I hear movements? ›
Now, researchers at the California Institute of Technology have discovered a type of synesthesia in which individuals hear sounds, such as tapping, beeping, or whirring, when they see things move or flash.Can you feel sound vibrations? ›
If you get close enough to the speakers at a loud concert, you can actually feel the low notes vibrating in your body. The higher notes may be just as loud, but you don't feel those.What is it called when you have sensitive hearing? ›
Hyperacusis is a disorder in loudness perception. Patients suffering from hyperacusis may appear overly sensitive to a range of sounds, finding many noises unbearable and painfully loud.
Presently, only a few platforms allow you to play GIFs with sounds. For that, you have to first embed an audio file in your image or use a video. Some platforms like Giphy, Imgur, Gfycat, or Tenor let you watch GIFs with sound. You can also give YouTube a try and find GIFs with audio.Can evoke what neither can do alone and can determine what we see? ›
Certain combinations of sound and visuals can evoke what neither can do alone. Sound is important because it can tell us about character, place, and time. It's important because it informs us and moves us in ways visuals can't, and because certain combinations of sound and visuals can evoke what neither can do alone.Why do I imagine noises? ›
But increasing evidence over the past two decades suggests hearing imaginary sounds is not always a sign of mental illness. Healthy people also experience hallucinations. Drugs, sleep deprivation and migraines can often trigger the illusion of sounds or sights that are not there.What is it called when you see words as colors? ›
The most common form of synesthesia, researchers believe, is colored hearing: sounds, music or voices seen as colors. Most synesthetes report that they see such sounds internally, in "the mind's eye." Only a minority, like Day, see visions as if projected outside the body, usually within arm's reach.What is it called when you can feel sound? ›
Synesthesia is an anomalous blending of the senses in which the stimulation of one modality simultaneously produces sensation in a different modality. Synesthetes hear colors, feel sounds and taste shapes.Is it possible to hear nothing at all? ›
That's what we learned from neuroscientist Dr. Seth Horowitz of Brown University; true silence is non-existent. "In truly quiet areas," he writes in his book, The Universal Sense, "you can even hear the sound of air molecules vibrating inside your ear canals or the fluid in your ears themselves."Can people hear when you open a box in Rust? ›
They can't hear opening chests (unless there os a code lock on them) or opening furnaces, placing them they can hear.Why do some people have great hearing? ›
Studies have identified genes that are associated with a person's hearing ability. We don't know exactly how they influence hearing, but it's likely that they play a role in age-related or noise-induced hearing loss.Is synesthesia a mental illness? ›
No, synesthesia is not a disease. In fact, several researchers have shown that synesthetes can perform better on certain tests of memory and intelligence. Synesthetes as a group are not mentally ill. They test negative on scales that check for schizophrenia, psychosis, delusions, and other disorders.How do synesthetes see music? ›
People who have synesthesia are called synesthetes. The word “synesthesia” comes from the Greek words: “synth” (which means “together”) and “ethesia” (which means “perception). Synesthetes can often “see” music as colors when they hear it, and “taste” textures like “round” or “pointy” when they eat foods.
Hearing music and seeing colors in your mind is an example of synesthesia. So, too, is using colors to visualize specific numbers or letters of the alphabet.What does GIF stand for? › Whats the meaning of GIF? ›
GIF, in full graphics interchange format, digital file format devised in 1987 by the Internet service provider CompuServe as a means of reducing the size of images and short animations.How do you pronounce GIF? ›
How to pronounce GIF - YouTubeWhy can I hear my eye? ›
"The actual muscles that move the eyes are connected to the bones of the skull and there is an element of friction as these muscles move. Some patients, as their eyes move from side to side, hear that friction movement of the muscle as a noise in their ear.Why do my ears ring when I lay down? ›
Pulsatile tinnitus may be more noticeable at night, when you're lying in bed and there are fewer external sounds to mask the tinnitus. If you notice any new pulsatile tinnitus, you should consult a clinician, because in rare cases it is a sign of a tumor or blood vessel damage.What does it mean if I can hear myself blink? ›
When you blink, tiny bits of air can get in-between your eye and eyelids, which can cause a funny cracking sound. Air can also enter the lacrimal sac (the area your tears drain into your nose through). As a result, you may hear a funny noise when you rub your eyes or even blink hard.What frequency do humans vibrate at? ›
The important parts of the human body vibration frequency are generally located in about 3 Hz–17 Hz. According to the International Standard ISO 2631 in the vertical vibration of the human body, the sensitive range is located in 6 Hz–8 Hz.What animal hears really well? ›
Elephants have some of the best hearing around. They can hear at frequencies 20 times lower than humans. It isn't just their ears that perceive sound; these majestic beasts also have receptors in their trunks and feet that are excellent at picking up low-frequency vibrations.How do I make my vibration higher? ›
- Gratitude. Gratitude is one of the quickest ways to amp up your vibration. ...
- Love. ...
- Generosity. ...
- Meditation and Breathwork. ...
- Forgiveness. ...
- Eat High-Vibe Food. ...
- Reduce or Eliminate Alcohol and Toxins from Your Body. ...
- Think Positive Thoughts.
Now, researchers at the California Institute of Technology have discovered a type of synesthesia in which individuals hear sounds, such as tapping, beeping, or whirring, when they see things move or flash.What is auditory tactile synesthesia? ›
Auditory-tactile synesthesia (a.k.a. hearing-touch synesthesia) is one of the rarest of all types of synesthesia. It occurred when sounds heard by the synesthete produces a tactile sensation on certain areas inside and outside of the body.What does it mean when you can feel sounds? ›
For example, someone with auditory–tactile synesthesia may experience that hearing a specific word or sound feels like touch in one specific part of the body or may experience that certain sounds can create a sensation in the skin without being touched (not to be confused with the milder general reaction known as ...What is it called when you have sensitive hearing? ›
Hyperacusis is a disorder in loudness perception. Patients suffering from hyperacusis may appear overly sensitive to a range of sounds, finding many noises unbearable and painfully loud.Why is everything so loud at night? ›
Temperature inversion is the reason why sounds can be heard much more clearly over longer distances at night than during the day—an effect often incorrectly attributed to the psychological result of nighttime quiet.Why do my ears ring when I lay down? ›
Pulsatile tinnitus may be more noticeable at night, when you're lying in bed and there are fewer external sounds to mask the tinnitus. If you notice any new pulsatile tinnitus, you should consult a clinician, because in rare cases it is a sign of a tumor or blood vessel damage.Why do I hear clock ticking in my ear? ›
Tinnitus is a problem that causes you to hear a noise in one ear or both ears. In most cases, people who have tinnitus hear noise in their head when no outside sound is there. People commonly think of it as ringing in the ear. It also can be roaring, clicking, buzzing, or other sounds.Is synesthesia a disability? ›
It translates to “perceive together.” People who have this ability are called synesthetes. Synesthesia isn't a disease or disorder. It won't harm your health, and it doesn't mean you're mentally ill. Some studies suggest people who have it may do better on memory and intelligence tests than those who don't.What is the rarest type of synesthesia? ›
1. Lexical-gustatory synesthesia. One of the rarest types of synesthesia, in which people have associations between words and tastes. Experienced by less than 0.2% of the population, people with this may find conversations cause a flow of tastes across their tongue.Can you teach yourself synesthesia? ›
Yes, You Can Teach Yourself Synesthesia (And Here's Why You Should) A synesthete-turned-scientist on why it's helpful to "hear" colors and "see" sounds. Berit Brogaard has had synesthesia, a neurological condition in which different senses combine in unusual ways, for as long as she can remember.
Tickertape experience is the subjective phenomenon of routinely visualizing the orthographic appearance of words that one hears, speaks, or thinks, like mental subtitles in the mind's eye. It has been observed in grapheme-color synesthetes, whose letter visualizations are colored, but has been very little studied.What colour is 7 synesthesia? ›
One rather striking observation is that such synesthetes all seem to experience very different colors for the same graphemic cues. Different synesthetes may see 3 in yellow, pink or red. Such synesthetic colors are not elicited by meaning, because 2 may be orange but two is blue and 7 may be red but seven is green.How can I tell if I have synesthesia? ›
- involuntary perceptions that cross over between senses (tasting shapes, hearing colors, etc.)
- sensory triggers that consistently and predictably cause interplay between senses (e.g., every time you see the letter A, you see it in red)
- ability to describe their unusual perceptions to other people.
Acoustic trauma is an injury to the inner ear that's often caused by exposure to a high-decibel noise. This injury can occur after exposure to a single, very loud noise or from exposure to noises at significant decibels over a longer period of time.Why is my ear echoing when I talk? ›
It can have several causes, most commonly an ear infection, loud noise exposure, or head injury. Diplacusis echoica is due to a delay in the perception of sound. This means that when sound enters the ears, one ear hears and interprets it faster than the other ear.Why can I hear everything in my house? ›
Noise can get into a house in two ways: It can enter through cracks in walls, cracks around windows and doors, or even mail slots. Any opening through which air can enter your home is a culprit. It can travel through the walls of your home (with some attenuation).