Do you use your eyes to help you listen?

    • Topic: Human Biology

    • Location: Hall of Human Life

    Understanding spoken words can be influenced by what you see – or don’t. Have you ever gotten the lyrics to a song wrong? Learning lyrics might be easier if you could see the singer’s lips, but could be harder if you saw other words being sung. Our lab is interested in how mismatches between what you see and what you hear influence things besides speech. We are also interested in how the ability to interpret conflicting signals might change with age.

    In this study, participants (5-75) play a video game on a tablet with different fish. The fish flash and make a sound at different rates. Participants classify these fish as ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ based on either their appearance or the noise they make. You can compete with another player to see who can correctly classify the most fish.

    People should classify fish most accurately and quickly when the flashes and sounds are matched. We hypothesize that as people age, they will have a harder time trying to isolate the visual and auditory information (sight-sound mismatches will have a larger negative impact on performance). We also predict that practicing this task will allow participants to improve their ability to correctly classify fish.

    This research will give us more insight into how our ability to handle complex sensory information changes as we age. It may also teach us how learning affects our brain’s ability to isolate or integrate conflicting sensory information.

    This research is conducted at the Museum of Science, Boston by Brandeis University’s Vision Laboratory and Boston University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory.

        » Brandeis University’s Vision Laboratory

    Activities to Try in the Hall of Human Life

    Are You Good At Ignoring Distractions?

    Our senses constantly receive large amounts of information from multiple sources. Attention is the ability to focus on specific information and filter out the rest.

    Find the “Are You Paying Attention?” link station in the Time environment. Test your ability to focus on some information while ignoring distractions. How quickly and accurately can you complete the activity? Do you think your age, sex, or hobbies influences this? Do you think you would get better at this activity if you repeated it 10 more times?

    Activities to Try at Home

    What Did You Say?

    How we hear some sounds in speech – like “bah” and “vah” – is strongly influenced by what we see. Make up a string of these sounds (e.g., “bah vah vah bah”) and say it to a friend so they can see your mouth. Ask your friend to repeat it back. Now try a different combination of “bah” and vah,” but this time have your friend close his or her eyes. Is your friend better or worse at repeating back what you said? Is it easier or harder with other sounds? What happens if you say a sentence with meaning instead of random sounds?

    You can also explore how visual information can help your understanding. Next time you are talking to someone in a crowded room, try listening to him or her while looking at his or her mouth. Ask them to say something else while looking away. Does looking at their mouth help you understand what you are hearing? Does it matter how loud the other noise is?

Research Spotlight

Contact Living Laboratory staff:

livinglaboratory@mos.org