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Auditory Illusion (Phantom Words)

In this activity, students listen to an auditory illusion on speakers and participate in a discussion. From this activity, students can discover how auditory illusions are based on confounding assumptions and patterns that we interpret based on our personal experiences. 


  • Understand that auditory information is processed in the brain.


  • Per Student or small Group:
    Computer or mobile device with speakers (or headphones if using as a station-less ideal)

Key Questions

  • What did you hear?
  • What stood out to you?
  • Why do you think everyone heard different words?
  • What are some factors in a person’s life that might influence the words that you hear?

What To Do

  1. Invite students to close their eyes.
  2. Invite students to listen to the Phantom Words recording.
  3. Ask students to write down what they hear on a sheet of paper as an individual activity.
  4. After the activity, lead a discussion focusing on a few key questions:
  • ​​What stood out to you?
  • Did you hear certain words?
  • Why do you think you heard what you heard?

Post-activity Discussion Information
​People will often hear words that are related to what is on their minds (e.g. people that are hungry might hear food-related words.) Also, depending on your native language, you may hear words in that language.

This auditory illusion occurs because of the brain’s tendency to interpret information/stimuli in meaningful words or phrases. This is the same way that the brain may see images or figures in a cloudy sky and the same way that the brain may see images in a Rorschach (ink blot) test.


  • Create your own auditory illusion and test it on other students or your family.

Other Resources

ASAPScience | Can you trust your Ears? (Auditory Illusion)
Phantom Words and Other Curiosities | Diana Deutsch