Friday, 3 July 2015

Music and ghosts - a connection?

Crows in a treeI swung round to look behind me, shocked. I'd just heard someone in the room even though I knew for a fact that I was alone in a locked building. There was no one to be seen! A ghost, perhaps? Or if not then what?

Here are the circumstances. I was watching a video I'd recorded at an outdoor location. It was the first time I'd ever watched it. There was also quite loud music playing. I wasn't interested in the sound track on the video, which was just ambient noise. So the music wasn't interfering with my assessment of the video. I quickly realised that the 'person' sound I'd heard behind me actually came from the sound track of the video. So why did I think it was a person / ghost?

OK here are my thoughts on this event. I was concentrating on the music and only heard those ambient sounds from the video that were particularly loud. The ambient noises were not produced by the objects visible in the video (a telephoto sequence) so they were unpredictable in content and timing. I think the combination of these factors, me concentrating on the music and the unpredictability of the video sound track, meant that I misinterpreted the sounds as coming from someone in the room with me.

I tried playing just the music again but there was no ghost effect. Playing the video without music didn't reproduce the effect either. I could, however, hear the sound I'd heard that I had interpreted as a person. But it didn't sound much like a person any more. Then I tried playing the video and music together again. There was still no ghost effect. It suggested to me that, as with visual misperceptions, aural misperceptions don't work a second time. Once your brain knows what it is really listening to it doesn't misperceive again (usually).

I've noticed strange noises while listening to music before. On investigation the 'strange' noises have always turned out to be something normal that I would never have misinterpreted without the music playing. The music appears to make background sounds more difficult to correctly identify, leading to misperception.

One final point. Why did I think the person / ghost was behind me? When listening to the video without the music, the ambient sounds did not appear behind me, even the recording was in stereo. I suspect the positional illusion arose from my brain trying to make sense of the anomalous situation. I could SEE clearly there was no one in front of me so my brain decided the noise must be coming from behind.

These are just my initial thoughts. I may try some experiments to see if I can reproduce the effect. Meanwhile, if anyone has heard ghostly sounds while listening to music, I'd be interested to hear from you.

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