Udenstrndanig the rsaoen you can raed tihs
The Brain is a remarkable thing which is used to decode a lot more than we realise. Have you ever noticed you can keep track of a conversation, even at loud parties or in crowded rooms? Or how you can easily unscramble written text, so long as the first and last letter are correct? These two phenomenona are known as the “cocktail party effect.” and “typoglycemia” respectively, and both illustrate the incredible guesswork done by the brain.
Credit: Jung Moon, fliqr
Cocktail party effect:
The cocktail party effect is a remarkable human ability, which allows one to focus on just one sound whilst blocking out any background noise.
British scientist Colin Sherry put the theory to the test in the 1950’s. A participant had to listen to two overlapping voice messages, and try to decipher just one whilst blocking out the other one. Two messages were simultaneously played, out of both ears of earphones. Participants were required to write down just one of the messages. Participants were nearly always able to decipher one message from the other.
This changed when the messages were altered to nonsensical sequences of words other than proper sentences as before. Participants almost always failed to decipher one message from the other. This led to the conclusion that in order to focus in on one conversation and block out another, the brain has to follow the conversation and fill in gaps when necessary.
You might be thinking- if this is true, what do we miss whilst we’re tuned out? The answer is quite a lot. While concentrating on one message they completely missed what the other message was saying. Another aspect of Cherry’s experiment was having the voice the participant wasn’t tuned into shift from speaking English to speaking German half way through, and in another instance shifted from playing forwards to playing backwards half way through. This was very rarely noticed by participants.
Typtoglycemia is the brain’s ability to unscramble words when the first letters remain the same but the rest of the word is scrambled.
Researchers at Cambridge University released quite a famous passage in 2003 outlining this very phenomenon- you may have even seen this before on Facebook or received it in your inbox.
“Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.”
Chances are you were able to understand that whole passage without problems. This phenomenon occurs as the brain does not read every individual letter, but rather reads the word as a whole and, interestingly enough, views the word as an image rather than reading every individual letter. This is a form of information chunking done by the brain, used to recall information more effectively. Words are also made to fit our expectations and projections of what is going to be said. Our brains are able to use the context of what is being said, and make predictions about what is to come.
If you’re interested in finding out more about these two phenomena, check out these links:
Cocktail Party Effect: