Auditory Pareidolia

Imagine, you have spent the last hour reviewing video/audio evidence and suddenly something audibly changes in the environment. You pause and think, “what was that?” You go back and listen again. You hear a sound that wasn’t in the rest of the recording, what is it? Now imagine that you listen to that sound another 20 times trying to figure out what it is saying to you. Wait!? Did we just jump to communication from a random sound? Don’t be too surprised, this happens often because of the way our brains work. 

Pareidolia is a term used for instances when our brain tries to make sense out of random stimuli and creates the perception of something understandable. Think of clouds. When you look at a cloud you may think “wow, that looks like a brontosaurus!” This happens because your brain interpreted the random pattern of the cloud as a dinosaur and that is easier to mentally reference than a large mass of water drops suspended in the atmosphere. This effect is possible with auditory stimuli also. We can be reviewing hours of video/audio and hear a random muffled sound. Our brain is looking to make sense of this data so after listening to it another dozen times our brain decides that you hear “kill Zac” when really you are hearing a small dog outside start to bark.  

This is why it is so important to ask your fellow investigators to listen to the same audio without indicating where or what they are listening for. You need to confirm that everyone hears the same thing because if they don’t, you are likely dealing with auditory pareidolia. (Note: you should also check to make sure there isn’t other audio evidence from that general area at the same time that can debunk this sound.)

Recently, a team member presented audio from a location in which he was speaking loudly inside an empty pool. The sound was amplified by the pool, echoed off the walls, and created muffled sounds on the audio recorder. He was certain he heard a woman say “do you believe in evil people” but before he told us this, most of the team couldn’t hear the voice he was referencing, one member heard something at a different spot on the audio, and I heard his voice reverb on the recorders microphone. After he told me the words, my brain could recognize the pattern but that didn’t make it actual words. The team agreed to debunk this evidence as auditory pareidolia.

While it’s more fun to find “evidence” than to debunk it (unless you are me), it is essential that we rely on one another to keep us honest. Teams don’t benefit from sharing fake or debunkable evidence and the paranormal field could use a few more teams that conduct collaborative review. Not only does the team learn to distinguish different visual and auditory phenomena by repeated exposure but they can feel more involved in the process of evidence review. My words of wisdom for today are, work together and you will be able to build a library of solid evidence and a team that feels confident discussing evidence with one another. 

Until next time, Happy Hunting!

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