The Ventriloquist Effect: How Hearing and Visual Cues May Work Together

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There is no doubt that the human body is a complicated machine that we are only just beginning to understand. Its different systems work together in ways we can’t yet even imagine to think, move, feel and more. Ever-curious and intrepid scientists continue to question what we know and unravel the mysteries of the human body. This includes the complex function of hearing and how it relates to other systems in the body like eyesight.
One recent study is offering surprising insight into how these two senses may connect and the important role the brain may play in that connection.
The ventriloquist effect
The study out of the California Institute of Technology and published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, explored the “ventriloquist illusion” and its aftereffects. This effect happens when visual cues and sounds in specific locations are repeatedly paired together. Even after the visual cues has been removed, the brain continues to hear the sound in the same location. Researchers researcher Christopher C. Berger and coauthor H. Henrik Ehrsson wanted to dig even deeper into the effect, hypothesizing that the ventriloquism effect would also be observable with imagined visuals.
“The sensory information we imagine is often treated by the brain in the same way as information streaming into us from the outside world,” says researcher Christopher C. Berger of the California Institute of Technology. “Our work shows that what we imagine in our ‘mind’s eye’ can lead to changes in perception across our sensory systems, changing how we perceive real information from the world around us in the future.”
Over a series of six experiments, the team tested their hypothesis by having participants imagine a circle and pairing that with certain tones and white noise. The results confirmed the team’s belief that the brain’s ability to imagine a visual cue to pair with a sound is just as powerful as actually seeing a visual cue.
“We were surprised to find that the effects on participants’ perception of acoustic space were almost as strong for imagined stimuli as they were for real visual stimuli,” says Berger. “That is, what we imagine seeing can affect our future perception of sound as much as what we actually see.”
The potential for these findings
This fascinating research could offer more than just a closer look into the brain and how eyesight and hearing work together to create a more complete perception for us. Could studies like this also be a stepping stone to more advanced treatments in the future? Researchers Berger and Ehrsson believe that is exactly what their findings may mean. With continued research into mental imagery, visual perception, and hearing, the team hopes to lay the building blocks for rehabilitation after injury or stroke and even the development of brain-computer interfaces and neural prostheses.
Our hearing health is not only linked to other systems within the body but can be an indicator of other health concerns including heart health and cognitive decline. Managing your hearing health to prevent hearing loss and other concerns begins with scheduling a hearing evaluation. Call our office today to schedule an appointment.

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