Are You One Of The 67% Who Can Hear This Silent GIF?

Photo: Wesley Tingey on Unsplash
Are You One Of The 67% Who Can Hear This Silent GIF?
Entertainment And News, Self

When Lisa DeBruine, a self-identified "Scientist interested in kinship, faces, evolution, open science, data, scicom, and coding" from the University of Glasgow, posted this technically silent GIF on Twitter, she ignited a viral debate by asking one simple question:

"Does anyone in visual perception know[s] why you can hear this gif?"

The following day, DeBruine added this survey to her Tweet:

What do you experience when you watch this gif?

  • A thudding sound
  • Nothing
  • Something else
  • Just show me the results

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In a phenomenon of illusion similar to that caused by the dress that drove the Internet into a heated debate over whether it was blue and black or white and gold ​(it was blue and black) back in 2015, the ability of some people to hear sounds that seem to be coming from this silent image caused a social media thunder storm.

Within a week, the survey had been taken by 306,968 people, and the results showed that a whopping 67 percent of all respondents could actually hear a sound when they look at this silent image!

Weird, right?!

While 20 percent of the participants experience nothing while looking at the GIF and 10 percent were so impatient and/or oppositional that they preferred to click on "just show me the results" (even though that takes the exact same amount of time and effort it would take to click on one of the other three options), three percent weighed in that they experienced something "else."

Rather than being able to "hear" the GIF, others reported that they could "feel" it, while some report that they can both "hear" and "feel" it.

What in the world could be going on here?

Unfortunately for the over 300,000-plus of us out there who were obviously curious enough to understand this phenomenon that we took the time out of our day to participate in the query, no one seemed to have an answer at the time.

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DeBruine then suggested that "It would be a cool student project to develop and test predictions from this hypothesis. How essential is the camera shake? Can the effect interfere with perception of real auditory stimuli? What predicts individual differences in who experiences it?"

And yes, that absolutely sounds like a cool student project, but right now we want answers, people!

She did share her favorite theory, however.

"My favourite explanation so far," she wrote, "is that this triggers the acoustic reflex, which is usually triggered by speech or loud noises."

And, of course, plenty of others on Twitter chimed in with theories of their own.

Gary Pearson asked, "Could it be that the actual skipping speed is about the same as resting heart rate, and what people are actually hearing is the blood pumping through their ears in time with the skipping?"

This led to a bit of a debate about average heartbeats.

Chris Fassnidge, a doctoral candidate in psychology at City University in London countered that this is "[unlikely] as common resting heart rate is quite different to the timing of this video. Also unlikely to sync so rapidly and in so many people."

Fassnidge speculated that instead, "This illusion is an example of synesthesia, or when the senses — like hearing and sight — get crossed in the brain​."

Jeff Weiss from Durham, NC suggested, "My gut says the camera shake is responsible for the entire effect. Anything that shook the camera like that, would probably make the 'thud' sound."

Unfortunately for Weiss, DeBruine destroyed that immediately ... without having to write a single word.

Cartoons, it appears, have the same exact effect.

Well, maybe not the exact same effect. Some people reported hearing the GIF above more loudly than the GIF in the original Tweet, while others heard this one more softly.

In addition to hearing a sound or feeling a vibration, other reactions reported include dizziness and nausea, with one notable comment that "it low key feels like my brain is jiggling."

Perhaps the most plausible explanation came from Jennifer M. Groh, Ph.D. from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.

"Our finding that eardrums oscillate in conjunction with eye movements may be relevant," she speculated.

Basically, her research has found that our eardrums move when our eyes move. Groh's take while she is "not sure whether the camera shake causes more eye movements — this illusion may recruit a different mechanism. But [it definitely] shows the power of compelling visual information to alter auditory perception."

According to The Verge, "The bouncing powerline GIF itself has an interesting history. Twitter user HappyToast first made it in 2008 as part of a weekly Photoshop challenge ... and it was included in the BBC3 TV series 'The Wrong Door', a sketch show set in a parallel universe. There are over a thousand different hosted copies on the internet, he says, but last weekend was the first time people actually paid attention to the audio illusion — and discovered that the senses aren’t quite as separate as they maybe believed."

In happy news, researchers at City University in London decided to take on the task of explaining the phenomenon they refer to as "visual ears."

Principal investigator and senior lecturer in psychology, Dr Elliot Freeman, shared the results of his study with Metro UK:

‘We already knew that some people hear what they see. Car indicator lights, flashing neon shop signs, and people’s movements as they walk may all trigger an auditory sensation," Freedman said. "Our latest study reveals normally-occurring individual differences in how our senses of vision and hearing interact.

"We found that people with ‘visual ears’ can use both senses together to see and also ‘hear’ silent motion, while for others hearing is inhibited when watching such visual sequences."

In a nutshell, there are two separate parts of the brain responsible for processing sight and sound. Normally, they do not work together, but "they may ‘cooperate’ in people who are able to hear silent images thanks to a ‘visually-evoked auditory response’, which is also known as VEAR or visual ear."​

So it turns out Fassnidge, who is should be noted is also associated with City University, was likely right.

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Deputy Editor Arianna Jeret, MA/MSW, has been featured in Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Yahoo Style, MSN, Fox News, Bustle, Parents and more. Find her on Twitter and Instagram for more.

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Editor's Note: This article was originally posted on December 7, 2017 and was updated with the latest information.

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