Remember the dress? Or Yanny vs. Laurel? Every so often, brain-teasing videos make their rounds on the internet, leaving us all baffled in their wake. Our eyes and ears love playing tricks on us, but there’s usually some legitimate scientific or biological explanation behind these mind puzzles.
If you haven’t been subjected to this most recent debate, here’s the video. I apologize in advance if this causes you to obsessively play it over and over again for the rest of the afternoon. Listen carefully!
You’ll notice that, like the video promises, you hear whatever word you’re looking at while it plays. And even if you try to trick yourself and don’t look at either word, you’ll probably just hear the last one you looked at or whichever one you’re thinking about, even subconsciously. I’ve played this video back dozens of times trying to prove my own brain wrong, and there’s just no way.
University of Toronto assistant linguistics professor Jessamyn Schertz explained to CTV News that a perceived word can be said so many different ways from person to person depending on particular speech patterns, accents, etc. that there isn’t actually one determined set of sounds that make up a word. So, we can hear a word uttered a billion different ways and still understand it.
"Humans are so used to listening to speech that it seems easy and effortless, but actually, reconstructing someone's message from the sounds we hear is an extremely complex task," Schertz said. "Just by looking at a word -- or even by closing your eyes and imagining a word -- that influences the way we hear the exact same sound."
Knowing that no word is tied to a single set of sounds explains how we’re able to hear different things out of the same few noises. But it doesn’t work with just any word; the fact that we have two distinct words, brainstorm and green needle, to choose from makes it easier for our brains to decide what we hear.
We expect sounds based on other factors surrounding it (in this case, literally looking at the words), so we’re simply primed to hear a word that we’re already anticipating. This would also likely explain the Stroop Effect color brain-teaser you’ve definitely tried before and why it’s so damn hard.
So, as you see, here we have just another example of our brains doing whatever the hell they want with no regard for our sanity! And that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
P.S. It’s supposed to say "brainstorm." Did that just ruin everything for you?