Forget optical illusions, auditory illusions are the new TikTok craze

We love a good optical illusion here on Creative Bloq and we’ve enjoyed having our minds turned inside out by everything from horses that rotate in different directions at the same time to moving objects that are still and colours that seem to change when they don’t.

Optical illusions have been a massive trend on TikTok too, with videos of mind-boggling spinning cubes and hypnotic patterns with hidden numbers racking up thousands of views. But now TikTokkers are discovering that our vision isn’t the only sense that can be fooled. Our ears can too (often with a little help from our eyes), as demonstrated in a flurry of auditory illusions on the platform. Looking for a good old visual mind bender? See our selection of must-see optical illusions.

@j.meadows2215 (opens in new tab)
♬ original sound – Whistle Worthy (opens in new tab)

Auditory illusions give false perceptions of a sound or sounds. We’ve probably all experienced mishearing lyrics from songs, and many of the auditory illusions doing the rounds depend on words or phrases that can be heard in different ways. In many cases, they depend on the eyes influencing the ears. The TikTok above made by @j.meadows2215 uses seven phrases with similar sounds. Many viewers report hearing the phrase they were looking at.

In the case above, the phrases chosen all have slightly similar sounds, with certain consonant and vowel sounds recurring, and the effect is emphasised due to the repetition of the phrase and the resulting liaison between the end and the start of the phrase. 

But other videos of auditory illusions claim to show that a similar effect can occur with phrases that are very different. A video from @metatrip420 (opens in new tab) went viral after challenging viewers to focus on one of two phrases while they listen: ‘green needle’ or ‘brainstorm’. The phrase you focus on should be the one you hear. Many viewers swear this work. Personally, I can only hear ‘green needle’, but other people claim to only be able to hear ‘brainstorm’. Help, it’s The Dress photo all over again, but now in audio form!.

@metatrip420 (opens in new tab)
♬ original sound – MetaTrip420 (opens in new tab)

So what’s going on? The psychologist Diana Deutsch (opens in new tab), who has researched music and speech illusions, says that auditory illusions “result from hearing sound patterns that are highly probable, even though they are heard incorrectly.” She says this is influenced by our knowledge and experience of the many sounds we have heard in the past. We correlate a sound we heard to what we believed or perceived was there due to our Reticular Activating System, which is responsible for what are brain is focusing on. So if you’re perceiving the word ‘green needle’ that’s what you’ll hear.

There are other types of auditory illusions too. A TikTok shared by @idea.soup (opens in new tab) involves audio alone. Demonstrating something known as the Shepard illusion, the music sounds like it’s getting higher and higher but it’s actually on a loop

@idea.soup (opens in new tab)
♬ dum dum dum dum – adam 🙂 (opens in new tab)

It’s fascinating to explore just how much our senses can be tricked, and there are undoubtedly ways this can be used in art and other creative areas. For more brain-twisters, see our pick of the best animal optical illusions and the best optical illusions of the year so far.

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