Friday, December 04, 2009

huffing and puffing

A third of a century ago, H. McGurk and J. W. MacDonald published a landmark paper in Nature (Hearing lips and seeing voices, vol. 264, p 746) showing that speech perception is influenced by visual impressions as well, not just by the sound.

Back in 1997, I did an opinion piece for New Scientist exploring the implications of the McGurk effect (as it became known) for the unfortunate tradition of dubbing movies and thus mismatching the auditory and visual signals. In that piece I also mentioned some of the variations on the McGurk experiment done by other researchers, some of which were quite funny, e.g. perceiving speech from inverted faces. I'm still wondering whether the subjects of the study had to stand on their heads.

Last week, Nature published another spin-off, easily summarised as "McGurk effect in air-puffs." Briefly, the authors Bryan Gick And Donald Derrick show for air flow what McGurk and MacDonald showed for vision, namely that it can distort auditory perception. For instance there is a short sharp puff of air in saying "pa", but not in "ba". The paper is on page 502, and a short interview with the first author appears on page 388.

Fortunately, though, all this doesn't affect anybody's enjoyment of movies, unlike the original McGurk effect and the dubbing industry.

PS You can read a "director's cut" version of my 1997 McGurk piece either here or in my recent book The birds, the bees, and the platypuses.

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