Monday, February 02, 2009

Hearing With Your Face

Here's an excerpt of an article that sheds even more light on the twisted ways in which all sorts of factors interfere with our cognition.

Whenever I read something like this, it reminds me how fragile this whole cognition business is, and how little we can actually rely on not being hoodwinked by context and contingency. Yet we all implicitly believe the rote "If I can see it and hear it and smell it...then I'll believe it's real." or something along those lines. Yet together with Loftus's research into false memories, this kind of research seems to leave most of the pillars of our hold on 'reality' up for grabs. What is real and what is confabulation?

As far as this particular issue is concerned, consider that it may imply for the potential distortion in perception occasioned by starting to say something, or even twitching to say something, even while someone else is speaking. What does it mean to really 'listen'?

Hearing With Your Face

The movement of facial skin and muscles around the mouth plays an important role not only in the way the sounds of speech are made, but also in the way they are heard according to a study by scientists at Haskins Laboratories, a Yale-affiliated research laboratory.

"How your own face is moving makes a difference in how you 'hear' what you hear," said first author Takayuki Ito, a senior scientist at Haskins.

When, Ito and his colleagues used a robotic device to stretch the facial skin of "listeners" in a way that would normally accompany speech production they found it affected the way the subjects heard the speech sounds.

The subjects listened to words one at a time that were taken from a computer-produced continuum between the words "head" and "had." When the robot stretched the listener's facial skin upward, words sounded more like "head." With downward stretch, words sounded more like "had." A backward stretch had no perceptual effect.

And, timing of the skin stretch was critical perceptual changes were only observed when the stretch was similar to what occurs during speech production.

These effects of facial skin stretch indicate the involvement of the somatosensory system in the neural processing of speech sounds. This finding contributes in an important way to our understanding of the relationship between speech perception and production. It shows that there is a broad, non-auditory basis for "hearing" and that speech perception has important neural links to the mechanisms of speech production.

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