Blinded By The Lyric? Study Reveals Why We Get The Words Wrong
Posted: 05-15-2016 06:35 PM
A new study by Dr. Wei Ji Ma may finally reveal why so many of us think Freddie Mercury is singing "Beelzebub has a devil for a son named Steve" in Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."
Turns out, unless you're looking at a person's face, it's much harder to understand what he or she is saying (or singing), according to Ma, assistant professor of neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, who recently authored a study on lip-reading.
"What seems to be happening with misunderstood song lyrics is that what you hear is not always reliable," says Ma. "It's noisy, the singer is singing fast, he's not articulating well or maybe he has an accent. The sound information is uncertain, that's step one."
Step two is when the brain combines the sound information with whatever other information it has at its disposal, including prior beliefs or expectations.
"We hear some (expressions) more often than others," says Ma. "And we often hear about bathrooms, or we'll ask about a bathroom at a restaurant and be told that it's on the right. That's something we've heard many times. It's much less common to hear a sentence like 'There's a bad moon on the rise.'
"The brain will combine what it hears — the sounds — with those prior beliefs, those expectations. If the sound is not very reliable, than the prior beliefs will have more effect."
Is there any possible way to avoid mishearing song lyrics?
"If you're watching (the video) while listening to the song, you're going to do much better at understanding the lyrics correctly than if you're listening to the music on your MP3," says Ma.
Beyond understanding why we get the songs wrong, Ma's research could help clear up other verbal miscommunication problems. If you want to make sure someone understands exactly what you're saying, face the person when speaking and don't cover your mouth with your fingers.
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