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Why do you 'hear' this silent GIF? Viral brainteaser explained

A whimsical animation that shows a transmission tower jumping rope is making people scratch their heads and question their ears.

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/ Source: TODAY
By A. Pawlowski

A whimsical animation that shows a transmission tower jumping rope is making people scratch their heads and question their ears.

Watch the GIF — it’s silent, but do you hear anything?

Many people swear they can hear a thudding sound when the tower lands; some even feel their body shake.

The GIF was created almost 10 years ago by a British artist who prefers to be identified only as HappyToast, but it recently went viral when it was tweeted by a scientist based in Scotland.

The artist said he didn’t set out to create a brain-twisting, ear-mystifying illusion, but simply wanted to include “the suggestion of weight to the giant pylons, which is the camera shake that most people are reading as the sound,” he told TODAY. He can also “hear” the silent GIF.

“I imagine lots of sounds that aren't there when I produce my animations, it helps to get timings right and judge a sense of movement,” he said.

So what’s going on here?

Why would you hear sounds that aren’t there, or even feel your body shake when you watch the GIF?

Part of it is a phenomenon in neural science called implicit learning: We learn things without knowing that we do so, said Eric Haseltine, a neuroscientist and author of the upcoming book, “Brain Safari: 5-Minute Experiments to Explore the Space Between Your Ears.”

Things that usually happen simultaneously get linked in your brain — a heavy object falling and the sound of a loud thud, for example.

“All of us have seen and felt sometimes something hitting something else and a sound resulting immediately,” Haseltine told TODAY. “So our brains have learned through this process of implicit learning that A goes with B.”

If you’re always used to hearing a sound when something — let’s say a giant, playful tower — hits the ground, all it will take is that image to elicit the sound — a loud thud — in your brain.

The other component is that your brain creates its own reality as it interprets things, Haseltine said. The very back of your brain responds to visual information, while the auditory cortex in your temporal lobe responds to sounds.

In the case of this GIF, you only have the visual information. But because you create your own perceptions, the auditory cortex generates its own response. In other words, a big thud.

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