Many people ask the question: how do ventriloquists work? Ventriloquy, like any other form of stagecraft where the performer’s goal is to cast a sleight of hand over the audience, is nothing more than an illusion. And a very good one at that. So how do ventriloquists work? Enter the marriage of science and magic to provide us with a possible explanation of why this illusion is so convincing to the observer. It has to do with the are of the which processes the sounds that enter our ears. Uncannily, the area which processes the sound also stimulates the nerve endings entering our eyes. The illusion of the dummy speaking and the ventriloquist throwing his voice has to do with how the brain processes stimuli around us.
How does Ventriloquy Work?
Scientists from Duke University Medical Center conducted a study where a group of monkey where supplied with visual and auditory stimuli. By studying the monkeys, the scientists determined that the brain processes the visual and auditory stimuli as one unit in the brain’s cortex. In other words, both the visual and the auditory stimuli combine together before the brain has time to process and make sense of it. Until now, scientists thought that each of the five senses was processed independently of each other, but not so, says Jennifer Goh, Ph.D, and a neurobiologist in Duke’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.
Their study found that sensory pathways integrate before reaching the brain’s cortex. That would explain why optical illusions or auditory illusions take place. In the case of ventriloquism, both auditory and visual sensory pathways are interfering and thus, creating an illusion that the dummy is actually speaking and the ventriloquist is throwing his voice. This is sometimes referred to as the McGurk effect: when the interaction of both senses, particularly as it affects sound, leads to the illusion of a third sound.
How do Ventriloquists Do It?
As soon as we see the dummy’s mouth moving, our brain wants to make sense of what it sees and “thinks” that the sound is coming from the dummy’s mouth. This happen’s in the audience member’s subconscious mind before they even have the time to analyze what’s truly happening.
Thanks to the way our brain processes our senses, ventriloquists, magicians, and illusionists will be around to entertain us for a long, long, time. Watch this cool video answering how does ventriloquism work.