Thursday, February 08, 2007


I have been reading "Stumbling on Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert. Its a good as they say it is.Two experiments on how our brains process sensory information jumped out at me.

Researchers tape-recorded the sentence 'The state governors met with their respective legislatures convening in the capital city'. Then they doctored the tape, substituting a cough for the first 's' in 'legislatures'. Volunteers heard the cough alright, but they heard it happening between the words- they heard the missing 's' too. Even when they were specifically instructed to listen for the missing sound, and even when they were given thousands of trials of practice, volunteers were unable to name the missing letter that their brains knew ought to be there and had thus helpfully supplied.

I wonder what would have happened if two coughs had been introduced- one overlaying the first 's' (as before)- and one in between the words (where the brain shifted the cough so we would "hear" the 's' that had been obscured).

Even cooler was this one

Volunteers listened to a recording of the word 'eel' preceded by a cough (which I will denote with *). The volunteers heard the word 'peel' when the it was embedded in the sentence 'The *eel was on orange', but the heard the word 'heel' when it was embedded in the sentence 'The *eel was on the shoe'. This is a striking finding because the two sentences differ only in their final word, which means that volunteers' brains had to wait for the final word of the sentence before they could supply the information that was missing from the second word. But they did it, and they did it so smoothly and quickly that volunteers actually heard the missing information being spoken in its proper position.

Lots more.

1 comment:

Rajani said...

With the two coughs idea, my guess would be that the first cough would be shifted more systematically, as shifting that is essential for "perceiving" the whole word. With the second cough, it would be more to do with grammar.