When You See These GIFs, Do You Hear a Sound?

A growing online community is obsessed with these silent "loud" GIFs. Is it a form of synesthesia, or something else?

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A community of over 138,000 people on Reddit are obsessed with GIFs that may allow them to “hear” motion. According to a study in the journal Cortext, about 20 to 30 percent of people will experience an auditory sensation when viewing these silent, moving GIFs.

The phenomenon is called vEAR, or “visually evoked auditory response,” according to psychologist Chris Fassnidge, lead author of the Cortex study. It could be a form of synesthesia, a neurological condition in which different sensory experiences (like being able to hear colors) are interconnected. It could also be a hint into the more complex ways we see: like how taste and smell combine to create flavor, perhaps, our hearing helps us to see.

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Elliot Freeman

“The more we learn about the brain, the more we learn it’s a very multisensory organ and that the senses can influence one another.” Fassnidge told Vox. vEAR is experienced differently from person to person. Some hear a buzzing in their head, others hear a kind of white noise, and others still hear something different depending on the GIF they look at.

A simple survey (looking at GIFs and rating how much auditory sensation each produces) will let you test yourself for vEAR. Scientists are not totally sure what causes vEAR, or even what it is, yet. For some, it could be a true synesthesia. Others may be suggestible to hearing or sensing sounds within the realm of the imagination. Some sounds may be produced just because we’ve learned to link certain motions with sounds. “Everyone has a strange thing about how they perceive the world,” Fassnidge said. “It gets people engaged in a way that a lot of other neuroscience topics don’t. It fires up their imaginations.”

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Understanding vEAR could help scientists understand why humans are so drawn to art forms that combine different senses, too, like dance, which combines motion and music. To get lost in more loud silent GIFs, head to NoisyGIFs on Reddit.

(via Vox)

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