Tuesday, 11 Nov, 2008 Science

Scientists Observed the Transformation of Speech into Song When Repeated


A psychologist from the University of California in San Diego revealed that when a spoken phrase is repeated, it somehow transforms into a song or at least that is how human brain perceives.

For the first time Diana Deutsch noticed such illusion when, back in 1990s, she revised a recording of her own voice. She noted that the phrase "sometimes behaves so strangely" somehow morphed into a song when it was repeated several times.

After the scientist tested her theory on professional musicians, she proved that the illusion is real. When the phrase was repeated several times, people started singing it back. The track is available here .

It is worth mentioning that the illusion occurs only in case the phrase is repeated exactly the same way, without any change.

"It brings to the fore a real mystery - why don't we hear speech as song all the time?" said Deutsch.

The psychologist believes that human brain usually holds back musical signals when hearing speech, so that people pay attention only to interpreting the words. However, when the heard words are repeated, our brain sometimes overrides this. Deutsch mentioned that a repeated phrase stops the inhibition of the pitch area in our brain, thus we hear song, which is, in fact, what we should be hearing in the first place.

She will discuss her discovery next week at a meeting, arranged by the Acoustical Society of America, which will take place in Miami, Florida. Currently Deutsch's team is applying MRI scans to identify the areas of the brain that light up when people notice the shift from speech to song.

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