Blind as a Bat, Deaf as a Post

Would individuals with poor eyesight agree with me when I say that without our visual correction devices (e.g., eyeglasses, contact lenses), not only are we almost blind but, to a certain extent, deaf as well?

If only I looked this fierce with my glasses on, I would probably never forget to wear them anymore… Source

As it turns out, the link between vision and hearing in the field of speech perception is not as blurred as my eyesight. Through their research, Sweeny, Guzman-Martinez, Ortega, Grabowecky, & Suzuki (2012) were able to demonstrate that while perceiving speech, people see mouth shapes that are systematically associated with sounds.

Usually, experiments would test how looking at a mouth would influence hearing of speech. In the experiment of Sweeny et al. (2012), however, they tested if hearing speech sounds would have an influence on how shapes are seen.

Sweeny et al. (2012)

Working on the knowledge that a horizontally elongated mouth would typically produce a /wee/ sound, and that a vertically elongated mouth would typically produce a /woo/ sound, the experimenters made use of horizontally elongated (flat) and vertically elongated (tall) ellipses in place of mouths so that the participants would not be aware of the relationship between the sounds and the aspect ratios.

There were three conditions: consistent-sound (flat ellipse was presented with a /wee/ sound; tall ellipse was presented with a /woo/ sound); inconsistent-sound (flat ellipse with /woo/ sound; tall ellipse with /wee/ sound); and, environmental-sound (ellipse presented with an environmental sound of no relation to speech or mouth shape; i.e., door shutting and ice cracking).

Results have shown that in the consistent-sound condition, perceived elongation was larger relative to both the inconsistent sounds and the environmental sounds. Simply put, hearing a /woo/ sound increases the apparent vertical elongation of a shape, and a /wee/ sound increases the apparent horizontal elongation. Since none of the participants reported awareness of the sound-shape associations or knowledge that the shapes could have been interpreted as mouths, the results also suggest that the crossmodal shape exaggeration occurs implicitly.

The findings of this study would be helpful in communicating effectively with others. Knowing that what we see can influence what we hear and vice versa, clearly articulating what we say would be beneficial in relating with others. Such findings are also helpful in educating those with learning disabilities, as clear speech has the capacity to make them better understand what they are told. It is also useful in communicating with elders who may have difficulty hearing or seeing, thus using the appropriate technique in talking to them would help make conversations with them less troublesome and confusing.


Sweeny, T.D., Guzman-Martinez, E., Ortega, L., Grabowecky, M., & Suzuki, S. (2012). Sounds exaggerate visual shape. Cognition, 124(2), 194-200.


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