Vio­let Brown
May 2020

What do you work on?

I research all things relat­ed to how peo­ple process speech. Some of my focus­es include how visu­al cues like see­ing the talk­er affect speech recog­ni­tion, and the cog­ni­tive demands asso­ci­at­ed with pro­cess­ing speech in adverse lis­ten­ing conditions.

What did you do using Gorilla?

The McGurk effect is a com­mon­ly cited audio­vi­su­al illu­sion in which dis­crepant audi­to­ry and visu­al syl­la­bles can lead to a fused per­cept (e.g., audi­to­ry “ba” paired with visu­al “ga” is often per­ceived as “da”; McGurk & Mac­Don­ald, 1976).

To expe­ri­ence the effect first hand, watch this video. First lis­ten to the video with your eyes closed, then watch it!

The McGurk effect is robust in pooled group data, but peo­ple dif­fer in the extent to which they are sus­cep­ti­ble to the McGurk effect — some indi­vid­u­als always report the audi­to­ry syl­la­ble (they are ‘immune’) and oth­ers always report the visu­al syl­la­ble. What accounts for the difference?

Despite its preva­lence in the audio­vi­su­al speech per­cep­tion lit­er­a­ture, lit­tle is known about why peo­ple dif­fer in their sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty to the effect. Pre­vi­ous research sug­gests that bet­ter lipread­ers may be more sus­cep­ti­ble (Strand, Coop­er­man, Rowe, & Simen­stad, 2014), but other per­cep­tu­al and cog­ni­tive cor­re­lates have not been iden­ti­fied. In our study, we addressed whether McGurk sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty is relat­ed to six poten­tial cor­re­lates: lipread­ing abil­i­ty, abil­i­ty to extract infor­ma­tion about place of artic­u­la­tion from the visu­al sig­nal (this pro­vides us with a more fine-grained mea­sure of lipread­ing abil­i­ty), audi­to­ry per­cep­tu­al gra­di­en­cy (this is a mea­sure of par­tic­i­pants’ abil­i­ty to detect where an ambigu­ous syl­la­ble falls on a con­tin­u­um rang­ing from “da” to “ta”), atten­tion­al con­trol, pro­cess­ing speed, and work­ing mem­o­ry capac­i­ty. We imple­ment­ed each of these tasks using Gorilla, and recruit­ed 206 par­tic­i­pants from Ama­zon Mechan­i­cal Turk.

All of our data, code for analy­ses, and mate­ri­als can be accessed at, and details regard­ing our pre-reg­is­tered hypothe­ses, sam­ple size, exclu­sion cri­te­ria, and analy­ses can be viewed at

“Per­cep­tu­al and cog­ni­tive traits that are com­mon­ly used in indi­vid­ual dif­fer­ences stud­ies appear to be unre­lat­ed to sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty to the McGurk effect.”

What did you find?

We found that bet­ter lipread­ers tend­ed to be more sus­cep­ti­ble to the McGurk effect (con­sis­tent with the results of Strand et al., 2014), but did not find evi­dence that any other per­cep­tu­al or cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties were asso­ci­at­ed with McGurk susceptibility.

These results sug­gest that a small amount of the vari­abil­i­ty in this clas­sic audio­vi­su­al speech illu­sion is relat­ed to lipread­ing skill, and that other per­cep­tu­al and cog­ni­tive traits that are com­mon­ly used in indi­vid­ual dif­fer­ences stud­ies appear to be unre­lat­ed to sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty to the McGurk effect. The orig­i­nal paper on the McGurk effect has been cited over 6,000 times, so it is some­what sur­pris­ing that cor­re­lates of McGurk sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty have not been iden­ti­fied in the pub­lished lit­er­a­ture. We sus­pect that this may be attrib­ut­able to pub­li­ca­tion bias, which can make it dif­fi­cult to pub­lish null effects. This study is there­fore an impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion to the lit­er­a­ture, and may be par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful for researchers attempt­ing to iden­ti­fy per­cep­tu­al and cog­ni­tive cor­re­lates of McGurk sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty, which, as it turns out, remain elusive.

Did you include any spe­cial fea­tures in your study to ensure good qual­i­ty data? If so, what did you do?

Given that we study speech per­cep­tion, we need­ed to ensure that par­tic­i­pants could actu­al­ly hear the audi­to­ry stim­uli, so we required that they used head­phones dur­ing the exper­i­ment. To check that they were actu­al­ly fol­low­ing these instruc­tions, we imple­ment­ed a recent­ly-devel­oped head­phone check (Woods, Siegel, Traer, & McDer­mott, 2017). Par­tic­i­pants are pre­sent­ed six tri­als with three tones each, and on each trial, one of the tones is pre­sent­ed out of phase across stereo chan­nels. When lis­ten­ers are wear­ing head­phones, this tone sounds notice­ably qui­eter than the other two, but this dif­fer­ence is extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to detect when stim­uli are pre­sent­ed through loud­speak­ers. If par­tic­i­pants incor­rect­ly iden­ti­fied the qui­etest tone in at least two of the six tri­als (i.e., they could get one of the six wrong), they were not allowed to advance to the actu­al experiment.

Has this study been published?

Yes, this study just came out in PLoS One. You can find it here.

“Con­duct­ing research online allows us to test whether the effects we’re inter­est­ed in are present in a more eco­log­i­cal­ly valid set­ting, and addi­tion­al­ly allows us to achieve a larg­er sam­ple size than is typ­i­cal in stud­ies con­duct­ed in the lab.”

What is the most excit­ing piece of work or research you’ve ever done?

I’m real­ly excit­ed about all of my research, but one line of research that I’m espe­cial­ly excit­ed about right now con­cerns the amount of effort that lis­ten­ers have to expend to rec­og­nize audio­vi­su­al speech. In a study that recent­ly came out in Psy­cho­nom­ic Bul­letin & Review, we showed that a mod­u­lat­ing cir­cle does not improve speech recog­ni­tion, but it sub­stan­tial­ly reduces the effort nec­es­sary to do so (Strand, Brown, & Bar­bour, 2018).

How do you think online research is going to change your field?

As more meth­ods are devel­oped to ensure good qual­i­ty data (and detect bots), con­duct­ing research online will give us the means to effi­cient­ly col­lect data for high-pow­ered stud­ies. I think online research will play an impor­tant role in repli­ca­tion, because not only will more stud­ies be con­duct­ed to test whether effects can repli­cate in an online sam­ple, but the rapid rate of data col­lec­tion will also facil­i­tate the repli­ca­tion of stud­ies that would oth­er­wise be time-con­sum­ing to con­duct in the lab.

What is the biggest advan­tage of online research methods?

Most of our research is con­duct­ed on healthy, moti­vat­ed, nor­mal-hear­ing col­lege stu­dents. Though I would argue that our find­ings are usu­al­ly gen­er­al­iz­able beyond this pop­u­la­tion, con­duct­ing research online allows us to test whether the effects we’re inter­est­ed in are present in a more eco­log­i­cal­ly valid set­ting, and addi­tion­al­ly allows us to achieve a larg­er sam­ple size than is typ­i­cal in stud­ies con­duct­ed in the lab.

Why did you choose Gorilla?

We want­ed to col­lect data through Ama­zon Mechan­i­cal Turk to ensure a large and diverse sam­ple, and we need­ed a flex­i­ble online plat­form to design our exper­i­ment. The exper­i­ment we con­duct­ed had sev­er­al tasks that var­ied in the types of stim­uli we pre­sent­ed (e.g., videos with audio, audio-only stim­uli, text), and Gorilla could effec­tive­ly present each of these stim­u­lus types.

How did Gorilla make your life or research bet­ter, eas­i­er or faster?

Not only was Gorilla’s inter­face intu­itive, which enabled us to quick­ly and effec­tive­ly design our study, but this plat­form also allowed us to col­lect data from 206 par­tic­i­pants in just a few weeks for a rel­a­tive­ly low cost.

For you, what is the stand-out fea­ture in Gorilla?

Given that we assessed indi­vid­ual dif­fer­ences in par­tic­i­pants’ abil­i­ties in six dif­fer­ent tasks, the stand-out fea­ture in Gorilla was its flex­i­bil­i­ty in allow­ing us to admin­is­ter each of these tasks.

Who or what orig­i­nal­ly inspired you to work in your field of research?

Julia Strand — my for­mer under­grad­u­ate research men­tor and cur­rent col­lab­o­ra­tor and dear friend — gets all the cred­it for instill­ing in me not only a fas­ci­na­tion with speech per­cep­tion, but also a love for research more gen­er­al­ly. I worked as an under­grad­u­ate research assis­tant in her lab through­out my time at Car­leton Col­lege, and was her lab man­ag­er for a lit­tle over a year after I grad­u­at­ed. Although I quick­ly devel­oped an inter­est in spo­ken word recog­ni­tion, what drew me in (and main­tained my inter­est) was Julia’s enthu­si­asm toward research and doing good, open sci­ence. It’s con­ta­gious, and luck­i­ly I caught the bug early. I couldn’t be more grate­ful to her.

When you’re not work­ing, what do you enjoy doing?

I used to bar­tend at a craft dis­tillery in North­field, Min­neso­ta called Loon Liquors. The dis­tillery is “grain to glass,” which means they receive grain from local farms and turn it into their prod­uct on-site (rather than receiv­ing what’s known as “neu­tral grain spir­it,” which is dis­tilled by anoth­er com­pa­ny), afford­ing them pre­cise con­trol over the qual­i­ty and con­sis­ten­cy of the prod­uct. As a result, the bar­tenders learn to care­ful­ly con­struct cock­tails that per­fect­ly com­ple­ment the fla­vors in the spir­its, and this has made me appre­ci­ate the art and sci­ence that goes into mak­ing a good drink. I real­ly love bar­tend­ing, and although I don’t have time to bar­tend in grad­u­ate school, I still make cock­tails with my friends and teach them about the process.

Are there any online cours­es, pod­casts, dis­cus­sion groups or resources that you’d rec­om­mend to others?

I’d high­ly rec­om­mend the pod­cast The Black Goat with Simine Vazire, San­jay Sri­vas­ta­va, and Alexa Tullett.

What sci­ence book have you read recent­ly that you’d rec­om­mend to others?

I loved read­ing The Seven Dead­ly Sins of Psy­chol­o­gy by Chris Cham­bers. This book clear­ly and effec­tive­ly lays out seven issues that are preva­lent in psy­cho­log­i­cal research and includes sug­ges­tions for how we can address these issues.

Vio­let Brown
Speech Perception
PhD student in Psychological and Brain Sciences
Washington University in St. Louis
Violet Brown

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