Neural basis of the ventriloquist illusion

Curr Biol. 2007 Oct 9;17(19):1697-703. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.08.050. Epub 2007 Sep 20.


The ventriloquist creates the illusion that his or her voice emerges from the visibly moving mouth of the puppet [1]. This well-known illusion exemplifies a basic principle of how auditory and visual information is integrated in the brain to form a unified multimodal percept. When auditory and visual stimuli occur simultaneously at different locations, the more spatially precise visual information dominates the perceived location of the multimodal event. Previous studies have examined neural interactions between spatially disparate auditory and visual stimuli [2-5], but none has found evidence for a visual influence on the auditory cortex that could be directly linked to the illusion of a shifted auditory percept. Here we utilized event-related brain potentials combined with event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging to demonstrate on a trial-by-trial basis that a precisely timed biasing of the left-right balance of auditory cortex activity by the discrepant visual input underlies the ventriloquist illusion. This cortical biasing may reflect a fundamental mechanism for integrating the auditory and visual components of environmental events, which ensures that the sounds are adaptively localized to the more reliable position provided by the visual input.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Optical Illusions / physiology*
  • Play and Playthings*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*