TikTok users are convinced that adjusting your visual surroundings influences how well you hear, and vice versa. Picture a scenario where taking off or putting on your glasses enhances your hearing. Likewise, lowering the volume of your music might do more than protect your ears; it could potentially improve your overall vision. So, what is the intricate relationship between our eyes and ears, and is it backed by science?
Why can’t you hear properly without your glasses on?
According to Malcolm Maciver, an optometrist at Leightons Opticians, “While not 100% understood, the well-established connection between our eyes and ears is something that has been observed since antiquity.
“In more recent times, a 2015 study published in Scientific Reports investigated the effect of gaze direction on hearing by assessing participants in a dark room, either looking directly at a speaker or looking away. It demonstrated that the brain uses more effort to process sound when individuals avert their gaze from the source.
“Strikingly, participants exhibited slower reaction times and increased brain activity when their gaze was averted, suggesting a heightened cognitive effort in processing auditory stimuli.
“This study provides compelling evidence that our eyes and ears are not merely standalone sensory organs but are intricately linked. The brain assumes that what we see should match what we hear, and if there’s any difference, it has to work harder to make sense of it.
“This would explain why so many people find it difficult to hear when they’re not wearing glasses, whether they’re reading the lips of a person talking to them or unable to clearly see where the sound is coming from.
“In addition to this study, recent research on ventriloquism sheds further light on the intricate relationship between our senses.
“Ventriloquism, the illusion where a voice appears to come from a puppet’s moving mouth rather than the actual speaker, reveals how our brains integrate visual and auditory information.
“In a 2019 study, researchers recreated this confusion by showing participants things while playing sounds from different places.
“Findings indicated that our brains link the sound to where we see something, even if it’s inaccurate, a phenomenon known as the ventriloquism effect.
“After being exposed to these mixed-up sights and sounds, our brains adjust how we locate sounds. So, even when we only hear something later, our brain still believes it’s coming from where we saw something earlier.
“This further emphasises the interconnectedness of vision and hearing, highlighting that the brain relies on visual cues to process auditory information efficiently.”
Why might you hear better without your glasses on?
Malcolm adds, “On the contrary, the notion of taking off your glasses to hear better may also have some basis. As studies suggest a connection between vision and hearing, the act of removing glasses alone may not dramatically enhance auditory perception, but rather the overall collaboration of our senses, which plays a crucial role in our perception.
“It’s more about the overall coordination of sensory input. In other words, it’s not just about one specific action, like removing glasses, but rather that removing your glasses allows the brain to focus on just one of the senses, in this case, hearing.”
Can the reduction of noise improve vision?
On the claim that lowering auditory stimuli improves vision, Malcolm notes, “In practical terms, reducing background noise and creating an environment conducive to both clear vision and effective hearing involves minimising distractions. This not only includes background noise but also how the sights and sounds match up both in terms of where they occur and when they happen.
“For example, turning the music down when driving can contribute to better focus and visual attention. While the reduction in noise may not directly translate to improved visual sharpness, our vision can benefit from an environment with fewer distractions.
“Ultimately, both vision and hearing benefit from an environment with fewer distractions. While further research is required, it’s fair to say that our senses do collaborate, and there is clearly a symbiotic relationship between eyesight and hearing.”