When my toddler hears a strange noise, he’ll say, “Mom, what does that sound look like?” His amusing phrasing innocently mixes sight and sound. But now a study in the journal Nature Neuroscience suggests that the brain actually links the audio with the visual. Because simply seeing a vase shatter activates the part of the brain that handles sound.
If I asked you to imagine a rooster crowing, you’d probably hear the [audio of rooster crowing] in your head. But what’s happening in your brain? We know which brain regions handle sound waves that come in through your ears. Are the same areas active when you simply imagine the sound?
Scientists [Antonio Damasio et al.] placed volunteers in an MRI scanner and showed them a series of nine silent videos. The clips showed things like the breaking vase, a cow mooing or a violin being played. And in the subjects’ brains, the auditory cortex—which handles sounds—was not only activated by the sights, but it would categorize them. So the patterns of activity that represent a howling dog and a chainsaw were distinct.
That means that Hamlet could hear the difference between a hawk and a handsaw—even if he only saw them.
[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]