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Re: Does anybody know a similar study?

Hi Massimo & List,

I believe that in Skinner's book, "Verbal Behavior" (1957), he reported an experiment he had done getting people to listen to a machine that played a tape of a babble of voices.  He called the machine a "verbal summator". I don't remember whether it was a loop or not.  He reported that people heard all kinds of words, with different people hearing different words, and thought it tapped people's verbal habits (including thoughts).  I recall that he thought it could be used as a projective test.  You'd have to check the original to be sure.  Also Google finds a number of entries for "Verbal summator", so there may have been follow-up work.

I myself frequently hear words, usually short incomplete phrases, as part of irregular environmental sounds, usually involving splashing water in a resonant space, as when I am washing clothing or dishes in a sink.  I can't make it happen voluntarily; it always happens as a double-take (e.g., Did I just hear "count the others"?).  The stress patterns of the words in the phrase always correspond with loudness variations in the sound.

Dick Warren and colleagues experimented with recycling white noise in the 1980s (e.g., Warren & Bashford, 1981, Perception of acoustic iterance: Pitch and infrapitch. Perception and Psychophysics, 29, 323-335.) but I don't think words were ever embedded.


Albert S. Bregman, Emeritus Professor
Psychology Department, McGill University
Office phone: (514) three-nine-eight-6103,

On Tue, Jun 17, 2014 at 10:46 AM, Massimo Grassi <massimo.grassi@xxxxxxxx> wrote:
Dear list members,

yesterday I colleague played me a sample (a sentence) of highly degraded speech. It was a recording made in a highly noisy environment. It included speech (a conversation) that was hardly intelligible except for a few occasional words.

The colleague asked me to listen to the sample and pay attention whether I was able to spot a few target words. These words were not intelligible to me.

The colleague then selected a portion of the recording and played it in loop. That portion included (according to him) one target word. After a few loops I was able to "perceive" the word.

This is exactly the problem. I'm wandering whether it was just a suggestion due to the repeated listening of an ambiguous auditory signal. A kid of auditory Rorschach test: there seem to be nothing at the beginning but if you keep listening you can hear whatever you like.

Is there anybody out there that is aware of studies that investigated whether listening in loop to an ambiguous signal can lead to hear things that are not in the signal?

I didn't find anything yet.

Thank you all in advance,