What are Brain Zaps? The Audio/Visual Truth
What are Brain Zaps? The Audio:Visual Truth of anxiety and stress

Brain zaps commonly associated with stress and anxiety could be due to a reduction of inhibition of signals that travel between visual and auditory areas of the brain, according to researchers at City University of London.

The study is the first to provide insight into the brain mechanisms underpinning such auditory sensations.

It was also found that musicians taking part in the study were significantly more likely to report experiencing visual ear than non-musician participants.

This could be because musical training may promote joint attention to both the sound of music and the sight of the coordinated movements of the conductor or other musicians.

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Dr Elliot Freeman, Principal Investigator on the study, said: “We already knew that some people hear what they see.

“Car indicator lights, flashing neon shop signs, and people’s movements as they walk may all trigger an auditory sensation.

“Our latest study reveals normally-occurring individual differences in how our senses of vision and hearing interact.

“We found that people with ‘visual ears’ can use both senses together to see and also ‘hear’ silent motion, while for others hearing is inhibited when watching such visual sequences.”

Some neuroscientists believe visual-ear may be a type of synaesthesia, with other examples including music, letters or numbers that can evoke perceptions of colour.

However, visual ear appears to be the most prevalent, with as many as 20% of people reporting some experiences of it compared to 4.4% for other types.

The condition has received more attention due to the recent, viral popularity of the ‘skipping pylon GIF’ (below), which in some people evokes very vivid visual ear sensations.


Dr Freeman said: “We were also interested to find that, on average, participants with visual ear performed better on both visual and auditory tasks than those without.

“Perhaps their audio-visual cooperation benefits performance because more of the brain is engaged in processing visual stimuli.

“Such cooperation might also benefit musical performance, explaining why so many of the musicians we tested reported experiencing visual ear.”

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