The McGurk Illusion

Kristin J. Van Engen – kvanengen@wustl.edu
Washington University in St. Louis
1 Brookings Dr.
Saint Louis, MO 63130

Popular version of paper 1aSC2

Presented Tuesday morning, June 8, 2021

180th ASA Meeting, Acoustics in Focus

In 1976, Harry McGurk and John MacDonald published their now-famous article, “Hearing Lips and Seeing Voices.” The study was a remarkable demonstration of how what we see affects what we hear: when the audio for the syllable “ba” was presented to listeners with the video of a face saying “ga”, listeners consistently reported hearing “da”.

That original paper has been cited approximately 7500 times to date, and in the subsequent 45 years, the “McGurk effect” has been used in countless studies of audiovisual processing in humans. It is typically assumed that people who are more susceptible to the illusion are also better at integrating auditory and visual information. This assumption has led to the use of susceptibility to the McGurk illusion as a measure of an individual’s ability to process audiovisual speech.

However, when it comes to understanding real-world multisensory speech perception, there are several reasons to think that McGurk-style stimuli are poorly-suited to the task. Most problematic is the fact that McGurk stimuli rely on audiovisual incongruence that never occurs in real-life audiovisual speech perception. Furthermore, recent studies show that susceptibility to the effect does not actually correlate with performance on audiovisual speech perception tasks such as understanding sentences in noisy conditions. This presentation reviews these issues, arguing that, while the McGurk effect is a fascinating illusion, it is the wrong tool for understanding the combined use of auditory and visual information during speech perception.

 

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