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This is a silent gif, but 70 percent of people say they can hear it. What the hell is going on?

Credit: Happy Toast / Sabrina / Twitter

Gifs are short video-based animations that don’t have any sound files connected with them. They are completely silent. Which makes it extremely strange that so many people online claim to be able to hear one of them.

You’ve probably seen (and heard?!) this particular gif before as it resurfaces every few months, with someone asking “why can I hear this?” accompanied with a crying faces to show how distressing the experience is.

The gif was created by Twitter user Happy Toast and has appeared again after a scientist asked for help understanding why people can hear a noise when viewing it.

Can you hear sound when looking at the gif? If so, you’re not alone.

https://twitter.com/BestTwlt/status/854020399553802240

https://twitter.com/Sabrina_Arsenal/status/853259350726586368

Dr. Lisa Debruine, a scientist at the University of Glasgow, included a poll to see how many people claim to be able to hear the gif. Up to now, 67 percent say they can hear a thudding noise, with an additional 3 percent claiming to hear “something else” when watching the gif.

https://twitter.com/lisadebruine/status/937302328184594432

Why do so many people hear something when watching the gif?

The first thing to know is that this isn’t the only gif creating this effect. Other gifs have surfaced creating a similar phenomenon, with many people claiming they can hear something.

Check out the following gif where you can see two elephants on a see-saw.


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Credit: Carolyn Dramos

Or check out this gif and imagine the clapping happening to the tune of the Queen classic “We Will Rock You”.

Credit: Somaramos

The reason you believe you can hear something when looking at these gifs is because our experience of sound is influenced by the visual information we’re receiving. It’s known as the McGurk effect and you can see another example of it in the video below from BBC’s Horizon program, showing how you brain can be tricked into hearing different things based on the visual information you’re receiving.

This case is quite incredible. You will hear both “baa” or “faa” based on how the man’s mouth is moving. Your visual experience overrides what you hear.

Can visual stimulus alone cause people to hear sound? Science says yes.

A study from earlier this year found that 22 percent of people can “hear” soft sounds when shown flashes of light, even though no sound was occurring.

It’s likely the viral gif is producing this phenomenon because of the violent shake , causing so many people to “hear” it.

Another explanation may come from the power of suggestion. Perhaps you can “hear” it because you’re expecting to resulting from reading this article before looking at it.

What do you think? Can you “hear” the gif? If so, is it because of the sudden movement or because we’ve told you that you should?

Written by Justin Brown

I'm the CEO and co-founder of Ideapod, a platform for people to connect around ideas. I'm passionate about people thinking for themselves, especially in an age of information overload.

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