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I propose an experiment

September 26, 2010

I’ve been living in Washington, DC for the last five months – a journey that is about to come to an end. I bring this up because in the basement bedroom I am renting – right above the bed – there is a not-entirely incessant dripping sound. I’m sure this will cause a big headache for some future landlord, but at the moment it plays the equally irritating role of being an essentially incessant dripping sound.

But sometimes annoying things are a good seed for an idea, because in that sound I noticed something. The sound wasn’t as it should be. It was a drip, drop, drip, drop, drip, drop, drip. But if I focused on the noise, it changed, to drip, drip, drip, drip, drip. The pitch of the noise would change based on whether I was actively listening to it or not.

Two different perceptions of the same repeating noise.

Here’s a pictorial representation of what I was hearing. The red line being the noise when I focused, and let us call the green curve my natural interpretation of it.

What I would like to know is, do all people perceive an identical repeating noise (or visual pattern) differently? Like might someone else constantly have their patience tried by the even more irritating drip, drip, drip, drip rather than my semi-melodic drip, drop, drip, drop?

And then, if there is a divide in the population about the types of patterns people impose on their perceptions, how does that relate to other psychological variables? My theory is that people who fit the drips with a linear pattern might have a higher propensity to fit linear trends to other inputs as well. But then, drip-droppers like me might impose unnecessarily complex interpretations on simple perceptions.

If this work has already been done, then I’d love to hear about it. I’m no psychologist, and wouldn’t even know where to start on finding the studies in any efficient way. But if it hasn’t been done, I think it would be a fun and easy way to test a possible psychological divergence in populations.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 26, 2010 3:05 pm

    I know for a fact that there are studies out there about how a constant stimulus is perceived as fluctuating, thanks to the brains raging desire to filter meaning out of signals coming into it.

    As for your specific question… no idea. I have noticed, however, that I can trick my brain into thinking nuanced differences in a steady pattern are the same, and a steady pattern as having differences (where there certainly are none). You know, just by thinking about it. The brain = weird.

  2. October 2, 2010 12:29 pm

    It was very helpful, I recommend


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