Your Ear Is a Tape Measure

The experience of seeing a lightning bolt before hearing its associated thunder some seconds later provides a fairly obvious example of the differential speeds of light and sound. But most intervals between linked visual and auditory stimuli are so brief as to be imperceptible. A new study has found that we can glean distance information from these minimally discrepant arrival times nonetheless. In a pair of experiments at the University of Rochester, 12 subjects were shown projected clusters of dots. When a sound was played about 40 or 60 milliseconds after the dots appeared (too short to be detected consciously), participants judged the clusters to be farther away than clusters with simultaneous or preceding sounds. Philip Jaekl, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in cognitive neuroscience,…


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