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

Photo: Twitter: @IamHappyToast
Why Can Some People Hear Or Feel This Silent GIF?

Yes, this is a real question.

This past weekend, Lisa DeBruine — who identifies as a "Scientist interested in kinship, faces, evolution, open science, data, scicom, and coding" — from the University of Glasgow, posted this GIF on Twitter, asking whether "anyone in visual perception know[s] why you can hear this gif."

The following day, DeBruine added this survey question 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 sounds of this silent image are causing a social media storm.

As of this afternoon, the survey had been taken by 306,968 people, and the results showed that a whopping 67 percent of all respondents can 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 are so impatient and/or oppositional that they would prefer 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 other. 

It turns out that rather than being able to "hear" the GIF, some people report that they can "feel" it, while others 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 are obviously curious enough to understand this phenomenon that we took the time out of our day to participate in the query, no one seems to have an answer that can be proven as of yet. 

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DeBruine 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 so far, however.

"My favourite explanation so far 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 some 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 "[u]nlikely 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 speculates 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."

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." 

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Senior Editor and happily-former divorce coach & mediator Arianna Jeret is a recognized expert on love, sex, and relationships (except when it comes to her own life, of course) who has been featured in Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Yahoo Style, Fox News, Bustle, Parents and more. Join her Sundays at 10:20 PM EST for answers to ALL of your questions on Facebook Live on YourTango and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.