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Musical Illusions and Phantom WordsHow Music and Speech Unlock Mysteries of the Brain$
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Diana Deutsch

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190206833

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190206833.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 25 October 2021

Phantom Words

Phantom Words

How Our Knowledge, Beliefs and Expectations Create Illusions of Speech

(p.103) 7 Phantom Words
Musical Illusions and Phantom Words

Diana Deutsch

Oxford University Press

Chapter 7 discusses the fact that when listening to speech, the words and phrases we hear are strongly influenced by our knowledge, beliefs, and expectations. We therefore often mishear words and phrases, and are subject to compelling illusions. One illusion that was created by the author is called phantom words, and examples of this illusion are presented. A sequence is played consisting of two words, or a single word composed of two syllables, and these are repeated many times. The same sequence is presented via two stereo loudspeakers, but offset in time so that when the first sound is coming from the speaker on the left, the second sound is coming from the speaker on the right, and vice versa. Because the signals from the two speakers are mixed in the air, we can create in our minds many different combinations of sounds. Many people initially hear a jumble of meaningless sounds, but distinct words and phrases later emerge, followed by new words and phrases. Nonsense words and musical sounds sometimes appear mixed in with meaningful words. The words and phrases often appear to be spoken in strange or “foreign” accents—presumably listeners are perceptually organizing the sounds into words and phrases that are meaningful to them, even though they appear distorted in consequence. These phantom words are similar to those reported by people who believe they come from the spirit world. Also discussed is the technique of recording spoken phrases backward and playing them forward, leading to the claim that satanic messages can be heard from these recordings.

Keywords:   phantom words, knowledge, beliefs, expectations, ambiguous sounds, sound design, movies, parapsychology, backmasking, spoonerisms

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