Sine-wave Speech

First developed by Robert Remez and Philip Rubin at Haskins Laboratory, Sine-wave speech is a form of artificially degraded speech. Much like the “aha” moment one gets when one listens to music backwards with a suggested lyric showing, the sine-wave speech is easily recognizable once the listener has been primed.

Listening to the sine-wave speech sound again produces a very different percept of a fully intelligible spoken sentence. This dramatic change in perception is an example of “perceptual insight” or pop-out. We have argued that this form of pop-out is an example of a top-down perceptual process produced by higher-level knowledge and expectations concerning sounds that can potentially be heard as speech.

I picked up on a few of the lines without checking first, and it got easier as I went along.

Try the examples yourself at Sine-wave speech.


magic psychology

Quirkology – The Missing Piece

See if you can figure out how psychology professor Richard Wiseman creates space for the missing piece. I have to admit, even though I’ve seen tricks like this before, it took me 3 or 4 times through to figure it out completely.

[The Missing Piece – YouTube]

backmasking psychology

Teaching of Psychology

Tom Stafford, a member of the Adaptive Behaviour Research Group in the Department of Psychology at University of Sheffield, recently presented the keynote speech at the annual conference of the Association for the Teaching of Psychology at Lincoln in the UK. He talked a little bit about the priming that can occur when you load up my backmasking site. He was kind to present the topic using this slide.

Thanks Tom! you made my day.

Research Digest wrote up an interesting summary of Tom’s keynote talk.

Music psychology

Amazing Audio Illusion

Play this audio clip again after it finishes and hear it continue to “creep up”.

See Wikipedia’s entry on Shepard Tone for the full scoop.

A Shepard tone, named after Roger Shepard, is a sound consisting of a superposition of sine waves separated by octaves. When played with the base pitch of the tone moving upwards or downwards, it is referred to as the Shepard scale. This creates the auditory illusion of a tone that continually ascends or descends in pitch, yet which ultimately seems to get no higher or lower.

magic psychology

Psychological Card Trick

Those of you that enjoyed the colour changing card trick, may also enjoy this psychological card trick.

[Psychological Card Trick – YouTube]

magic psychology

The Amazing Colour Changing Card Trick

As a former magician myself, I don’t believe in telling how the trick is done, but in this particular case the spoiler doesn’t just reveal how it’s done but is the actual trick.

Watch carefully.

[Colour Changing Card Trick – YouTube]


The Stroop Effect

The Stroop Effect, named after J. Ridley Stroop who published the effect in 1935, is a demonstration of interference in the reaction time of a task. For example, when a word signifying a colour such as “red” is printed in blue a reader’s reaction time processing the word’s colour, leads to slower test reaction times and an increase in mistakes.

Try out one of my favourite demonstrations of this effect by saying the colours of the words below:

(For example if the word “blue” is printed in green, you would say the word green)

 red   blue  orange  yellow  purple  green  blue  yellow  red  blue  orange  purple  yellow  green  blue  red  green  orange  purple
 yellow  orange  red  green  blue  green  red  green  blue  yellow  orange  purple  green  blue  yellow  red  orange  purple  green

If naming the first group of colours is easier and quicker than the second, then your performance exhibits the Stroop effect.

The Stroop effect illustrates important principles about how the brain works, particularly for mental tasks involving attention, automatic processing, and response selection. It also can be used to examine the subtle effects of adverse conditions on the brain, such as lack of sleep, fatigue, or the effects of high altitudes.

The coloured word test above is only one kind kind of automatic processing that can be studied.

Check out Harvard University’s site in which they continually collects data with their Implicit Association Tests, many of which have fascinating social and political implications.

psychology Sport

Test Your Awareness

How many passes does the team in white make? An experiment in awareness.

[Test your awareness – YouTube]

backmasking psychology

The Truth About Subliminal Influence

Hungry? Eat Popcorn

The interesting thing about the claim of a subliminal influence contained within popular music when played backwards is that the messages are very difficult (if not impossible) to discern unless you’ve been primed to hear them on a conscious level.

I’ve been receiving emails wanting to know how this apparent lack of influence ties in with research that demonstrates subliminal messages can coerce unwary buyers into making purchases they would not otherwise have considered?

A short story is in order, (stop me if you’ve heard this one) Fort Lee, N.J., 1957. Unsuspecting film goers are enjoying “Picnic”, with William Holden and Kim Novak. In the projection room, an important marketing experiment is being staged. Researcher James Vicary has installed a tachistoscope, a machine that can inject subliminal images of tiny fractions of a second—far below that of a person’s conscious threshold. Every five seconds and for a duration of just 1/3000th of a second, Vicary alternated two messages. One read, “Drink Coca-cola” and the other, “Hungry? Eat Popcorn”.

Vicary’s results were spectacular! Coca-cola sales jumped 18.1%; popcorn sales 57.8%. Vicary dubbed this “subliminal advertising”, the practise of manipulating consumers to make purchases they might not normally make.

And if you believe that, I’ve got a pet rock I’d like to sell you.

The great popcorn experiment was a fraud.

Advertisers and regulators doubted Vicary’s story from the beginning, so another researcher, Dr. Henry Link, duplicated Vicary’s experiment and found no evidence that people reacted to the messages. In a 1962 interview, Mr. Vicary admitted the data was all fabricated to gain attention for his business. Some critics have since expressed doubt that he ever conducted the experiments at all.

However, the legend lives on. To this day a great many people still believe Vicary’s claims and will apparently never be convinced otherwise.

As numerous studies over the last few decades have demonstrated, subliminal advertising doesn’t work; in fact, it never worked, and the whole premise was based on a lie from the very beginning.

It is possible to prime the unconscious.

According to a recent experiment, psychologists at Yale were able to alter people’s judgments by simply priming them with either hot or cold coffee.

The study participants, college students, had no idea that their social instincts were being deliberately manipulated. On the way to the laboratory, they had bumped into a laboratory assistant, who was holding textbooks, a clipboard, papers and a cup of hot or iced coffee and asked for a hand with the cup.

That was all it took: The students who held a cup of iced coffee rated a hypothetical person they later read about as being much colder, less social and more selfish than did their fellow students, who had momentarily held a cup of hot java.

As improbable as it may seem, findings like this one have continued to pour forth in psychological research in recent years.

New studies have found that people tidy up more thoroughly when there’s a faint tang of cleaning liquid in the air; they become more competitive if there’s a briefcase in sight, or more cooperative if they glimpse words like “dependable” and “support” all without being aware of the change, or what prompted it.

The article goes on to remind readers that, “studies of products promising subliminal improvement, for things like memory and self-esteem, found no effect”.

If you’re interested in this sort of thing, I recommend reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink—here’s a very short audio snippet from chapter 2 (650k mp3).

games physics psychology technology

Subliminal Sound to “Cure” Video Game Addiction

A Korean venture start-up claims to have developed an audio sequence that can communicate with addicted game players below the conscious level. The company wants game manufacturers to play the embedded subliminal messages when a young user has kept playing after a preset period of time.
From The Korea Times article:

“We incorporated messages into an acoustic sound wave telling gamers to stop playing. The messages are told 10,000 to 20,000 times per second,” Xtive President Yun Yun-hae said.
“Game users can’t recognize the sounds. But their subconscious is aware of them and the chances are high they will quit playing,” the 35-year-old Yun said. “Tests tell us the sounds work.”

Any scholarly evidence I’ve ever read up on has indicated that subliminal messages don’t work, but apparently marketing such messages is big business.

Xtive applied for a domestic patent for the phonogram and is looking to take advantage of the technology in other sectors.
“We can easily change the messages. In this sense, the potential for this technology is exponential,” Yun said.