In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Lawrence Rosenblum of the University of California Riverside, reveals how our senses are often telling us more than we consciously realize.
Lawrence Rosenblum is a professor of psychology at the University of California Riverside where his research is focused on understanding the brains perceptive abilities. His work has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals and in 2010 he published, See What I’m Saying: The Extraordinary Powers of Our Five Senses. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut.
Dr. Lawrence Rosenblum – Unconscious Senses
Psychologists have long known that our senses can take in information without our awareness. However, new research is showing that entire perceptual abilities happen this way. These implicit perceptual skills occur all of the time, and can actually be fine-tuned with practice.
Consider Daniel Kish, a blind man who leads mountain biking expeditions. Daniel uses a skill known as echolocation. He produces a click sound with his tongue which reflects off of rocks, trees, and other major obstacles in his path allowing his brain to determine their locations. But echolocation is not a skill reserved for the blind. Research in our lab and others shows that most everyone can learn rudimentary echolocation with 10 minutes of practice. With more practice, we can learn to recognize the size, shape, and surface texture of sound-reflecting objects, even if the sound is initiated by another source.
Another of our implicit perceptual skills is lipreading. You probably don’t lipread as well as Sue Thomas, a deaf individual who has performed lipreading surveillance for the FBI. But, research suggests that your brain is actually lipreading all the time. Whether you’re listening to someone in a noisy environment, learning a new language, or simply engaged in a complex conversation, looking at the mouth of a speaker enhances your ability to hear what someone is saying. Further, research in our lab and others has shown that lipread speech can often dominate the speech we get through our ears. Our research also shows that watching a talker’s articulating mouth can unconsciously shape the speech we produce, so that our own speech subtly imitates their manner of speaking – an effect that also occurs with heard speech. All of this is consistent with brain imaging research showing that the hearing parts of our brain actually treat lipread speech as if it’s sound.
Thus, like echolocation, lipreading constitutes one of our implicit perceptual skills. Similar skills our being revealed for our touch, smell, and taste systems. While these skills lie just below the level of consciousness for most of us, perceptual experts such as Daniel Kish and Sue Thomas show that these skills can even be improved with practice.