Silence can be ‘heard’ and distorts perception of time: Study
Comparable to optical illusions that deceive visual perception, auditory illusions occur when listeners “hear” sounds that defy conventional expectations
Traditionally, participants tend to perceive a single long beep as being longer than two short consecutive beeps, even when the durations of the two sequences are equal (Representative Image:iStock)
A team of philosophers and psychologists have discovered that silence possesses the ability to not just be heard, but also to manipulate individuals’ perception of time.
Through the use of auditory illusions in a study involving 1,000 participants, it was revealed that silence can create a distortion in the perception of time.
Comparable to optical illusions that deceive visual perception, auditory illusions occur when listeners “hear” sounds that defy conventional expectations based on the circumstances of their creation.
“We typically think of our sense of hearing as being concerned with sounds. But silence, whatever it is, is not a sound – it’s the absence of sound,” said lead author Rui Zhe Goh, a graduate student in philosophy and psychology, Johns Hopkins University, US.
“Surprisingly, what our work suggests is that nothing is also something you can hear,” said Zhe Goh.
During the research, scientists adjusted well-known auditory illusions, including the ‘one-is-more’ phenomenon.
Traditionally, participants tend to perceive a single long beep as being longer than two short consecutive beeps, even when the durations of the two sequences are equal.
In this study, the scientists reversed these illusions by introducing brief intervals of silence that abruptly interrupted soundscapes representing bustling environments such as busy restaurants, markets, and train stations.
Chaz Firestone, an assistant professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, who directs the Johns Hopkins Perception & Mind Laboratory said, “Our approach was to ask whether our brains treat silences the way they treat sounds. If you can get the same illusions with silences as you get with sounds, then that may be evidence that we literally hear silence after all.”
The researchers found the same results – people thought one long moment of silence was longer than two short moments of silence.
In the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the researchers observed consistent results indicating that individuals perceived one extended period of silence as being longer than two shorter intervals of silence.
Researchers said, the idea was not simply that these silences made people experience illusions, but that the same illusions that scientists thought could only be triggered with sounds worked just as well when the sounds were replaced by silences.
“The kinds of illusions and effects that look like they are unique to the auditory processing of a sound, we also get them with silences, suggesting we really do hear absences of sound too,” co-author Ian Phillips, professor of Philosophy and Psychological and Brain Sciences, said.
The findings establish a new way to study the perception of absence, the team which intends to investigate visual disappearances and other examples of things people can perceive as being absent said.