McGurk Effect in Psychology explained

McGurk Effect - Toolshero

McGurk effect: this article explains the McGurk effect, developed by Harry McGurk and John MacDonald in a practical way. The article starts with the definition of the concept, followed by information about its origin and a practical example. You can also read about the different factors that influence this effect and what criticism there is of the phenomenon. Enjoy reading!

What is the McGurk effect?

The McGurk effect is a psychoacoustic effect that occurs when the auditory component of speech conflicts with the visual component. This leads to a fused or altered perception of speech sounds. In other words, what a person sees can influence what he or she hears.

Through this incompatible audiovisual stimulus, for example, when someone hears a syllable but sees someone form another syllable with their mouth, a third syllable is perceived which is a fusion of both the auditory and visual signal.

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For example, if someone utters the sound “ba”, but the person shows “ga” with the mouth, it can be perceived as “da”. The perceived sound is usually more influenced by what is seen than by what is heard.

The McGurk effect shows the integration of auditory and visual information in speech perception and emphasizes the complex nature of how speech is perceived and interpreted. It shows that the human brain relies on multiple sensory inputs, such as visual cues and mouth movements, as well as auditory cues to construct the perception.

Origin of the McGurk Effect

The effect was first described in the literature by researchers Harry McGurk and John MacDonald in 1976.

They conducted several experiments, including one where participants were shown a video of a person articulating 1 syllable. The audio played a different syllable.

Participants then consistently reported observing a third syllable that combined the auditory and visual parts.

The McGurk effect has since been studied extensively and has had implications for several disciplines.

For example, it is relevant for research into speech perception, audiovisual integration and understanding the human brain when it comes to how the brain processes multi-sensory information.

The effect and research on it also has applications in fields such as psychology, linguistics and communication research. It provides insight into how perception can be affected by sensory conflicts.

Valuable in disorders

The applications resulting from the discovery of this effect have proved valuable in investigating the underlying mechanisms of speech perception disorders, as experienced by people with hearing impairments and conditions such as autism spectrum disorder.

It also helps improve technologies such as speech recognition systems, audiovisual aids and other aids for people with speech-related disabilities.

What factors influence the McGurk effect?

This effect is influenced by several factors, including Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism and brain damage. These factors are explained below.

Brain damage

People with brain damage, especially damage in the areas of the brain associated with speech perception and multi-sensory integration, are more likely to show an altered response to the McGurk effect.

Damages in certain parts of the brain can disrupt the integration of auditory and visual information, resulting in a reduced or modified McGurk effect.

Brain scans show that damage to these areas affects the neural networks responsible for multi-sensory integration.

Autism spectrum disorder

People with an autism spectrum disorder also show different reactions when it comes to the McGurk effect.

People with autism process sensory information differently and some studies show that they are therefore less susceptible to the McGurk effect.


Alzheimer’s disease primarily affects memory and cognitive brain function, but can also affect speech perception.

When it comes to this auditory effect, people with Alzheimer’s may experience difficulty integrating auditory and visual information, resulting in them experiencing the effect reduced or not at all.

Schizophrenia and the McGurk Effect

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by disturbances in perception, thought, and social functioning.

People with schizophrenia often show impaired multi-sensory integration, including abnormalities in audio-visual integration during speech perception.

Studies show that people with schizophrenia perceive a reduced McGurk effect compared to people who do not have schizophrenia.

Criticism and shortcomings on the McGurk Effect

While the scientific basis of the McGurk effect is solid, there are some critical points and controversies surrounding the phenomenon. It is important to consider these.

Perceptual bias

Some researchers argue that the McGurk effect is due to visual dominance in speech perception, where the visual information dominates the auditory information.

They argue that the perception need not be a fusion of both modalities, but rather a visual distortion of the auditory signal. This perception can influence the interpretation of the phenomenon.

Cultural influences

Other researchers argue that the McGurk effect is influenced by cultural factors.
Research has shown that cultural differences in language and speech habits can also influence the extent to which people perceive this effect.

For example, there is a study that speakers of languages where visual information is more important, such as in Japanese, may show the McGurk effect more often and more strongly than people who live in a country where the language is less dependent on the visual component.

Method issues

There are also some methodological considerations when investigating the McGurk effect. Factors such as the video and audio recordings used, the precision of the timing between the two components, and the selection of participants can affect the results.

It is important to keep these factors in mind. Read more about variables like this in the article on experimental research.

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Now it’s your turn

What do you think? Do you recognize the explanation about the McGurk effect? Have you ever observed this effect yourself? What can the development of new technologies such as speech recognition systems mean for this effect? Do you know if cultural or linguistic factors influence this effect? Do you have other tips or comments?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Alsius, A., Paré, M., & Munhall, K. G. (2018). Forty years after hearing lips and seeing voices: the McGurk effect revisited. Multisensory Research, 31(1-2), 111-144.
  2. Munhall, K. G., Gribble, P., Sacco, L., & Ward, M. (1996). Temporal constraints on the McGurk effect. Perception & psychophysics, 58, 351-362.
  3. Rosenblum, L. D., Schmuckler, M. A., & Johnson, J. A. (1997). The McGurk effect in infants. Perception & psychophysics, 59(3), 347-357.
  4. Tiippana, K. (2014). What is the McGurk effect?. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 725.

How to cite this article:
Janse, B. (2023). McGurk Effect (McGurk and MacDonald). Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero:

Original publication date: 06/05/2023 | Last update: 03/19/2024

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Ben Janse
Article by:

Ben Janse

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.


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