Don't Trust Your Senses, They Can Deceive You!

Don’t Trust Your Senses, They Can Deceive You!

Written By: Kevin Watson

10th April 2015

Can you really trust your senses when deciding to trust other people?

The other day I was researching material on communication for a leadership programme I’m about to launch with a well-known retailer and I stumbled across this illusion that made me question everything I thought I knew about verbal and non-verbal cues.

The McGurk Effect, first described by psychologist Harry McGurk, tricks your brain into hearing things that haven’t actually been said.

Effectively, non-verbal cues and the way things are said to determine what is communicated. In other words, when our eyes tell us one thing and our ears another, the eyes have it!

We literally hear what our eyes tell us.

It works because people think they hear most words.

In fact, we rely on our eyes to hear words, as much as our ears!

So, when you add something such as text, suggesting to the eye (and then to the ears) what should be heard, then the text wins the day. Given ambiguous inputs, the eye will overrule the ear and substitute its judgment.

On-screen, if you are given a line of text telling you what the speaker is saying you will hear the speaker saying it, even if he is not, in fact, saying it at all.

This was demonstrated in the run up to the US presidential election, when MSNBC made a story out of a crowd chanting “Ryan” instead of “Romney”, questioning whether Mitt Romney was generating sufficient support.

It turns out they were providing misleading visual cues, by adding the word Ryan to the screen and using the McGurk Effect!

It’s an interesting demonstration of suggestibility and has set me wondering where this may play out in our everyday lives.

Can you really trust your senses when meeting people?



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