Did you know, your eyes can play tricks on your ears?

In this post, we highlight a trick our eyes can play on our ears when we’re listening to somebody talk.

Thanks to Covid 19, I’m pretty sure most of us have noticed that it’s more difficult to understand what someone is saying to us when they’re wearing a mask.

Two women talking face to face while wearing masks.

This is partly because we get an awful lot of information about what someone is saying through watching their mouth and face. Wearing a mask cuts us off from that and our voices get muffled too.

However, when we’re not wearing masks, did you know that our eyes can actually play tricks on our ears, and alter what we think is being said to us?

Let me demonstrate: take a look at this short clip from comedian Peter Kaye. It’s all about mishearing lyrics from karaoke songs.

See if what you hear matches what you see. I’ve listed the phrases to make it easier:-

  • ‘want you back’ versus ‘wash your back’;
  • ‘just let me state for the record versus ‘just let me staple the vicar’;
  • ‘bird seed’ versus ‘mercy’;
  • ‘oh no’ versus ‘pork pie‘.

This illustrates one of the fascinating facts about our ears, eyes and speech – specifically, what we hear won’t matter if what we see overrides it.

To put it another way, if the mouth movement you see doesn’t match what you hear, what you see can overrule what you hear.

So you can end up ‘hearing’ something different from the intended message.

A person listening to what is being said.

We all hear ‘pork pie’ because Peter Kay mouths ‘pork pie’. His mouth / lip movement convinces us that ‘pork pie’ is what we hear.

If we know the lyrics of the song, we know this is actually incorrect and of course, that’s funny! If Peter did not mouth the words in time with the song, we are less likely to hear ‘pork pie’.

This experience is explained by something called ‘the McGurk effect’ and it is a key concept related to how our eyes and ears perceive and process speech.

It’s truly an illusion! The degree to which individuals experience it varies too. The clip below gives a great explanation:

Anyway, my point is that the information we get from watching people’s faces as they talk is a big help in understanding and interpreting what is being said to us – as long as what we hear correctly matches what we see.

This is why Artikul8’s courses on pronunciation for adults learning English as a second language include step by step videos with instructions on correct mouth movement.

And yes, you can watch them as often as you wish!

Go to Artikul8®!