The Perception of Silence

This webpage contains stimuli and demonstrations supporting:

Goh, R.Z., Phillips, I., & Firestone, C. (2023). The perception of silence.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Do moments of silence elicit auditory event representations? To answer this question, we adopted a novel approach, which is to test whether silences can ‘substitute’ for sounds in event-based auditory illusions.

Below, you'll find demonstrations and stimuli for three 'silence illusions' that we created by adapting prominent event-based perceptual illusions.

In this experiment, we substituted silences for sounds in the one-is-more illusion (Yousif & Scholl, 2019). Our subjects were immersed in an ambient noise (such as that of a restaurant). During the experiment, the ambient noise was interrupted by either a single continuous silence or two discrete silences, and subjects were asked to judge the durations of the silence sequences.
Experiment 1a: Comparison
Experiment 1b: Reproduction
Experiment 1c: Contrast control

Silence event-based warping
In this experiment, we adapted the object-based warping illusion (Vickery & Chun, 2010), in which a pair of dots within an object is perceived to be farther apart than a pair of dots in empty space, into a silence event-based warping paradigm, in which a pair of tones within a silence event seems further apart in time than a pair of tones in pure silence.
Experiment 2a: Silence event-based warping
Experiment 2b: Distraction control
Experiment 2c: Response control

Oddball silence
In this experiment, we substituted silences for sounds in the oddball illusion (Tse et al., 2004; Birngruber et al., 2014). Our subjects were immersed in a soundscape comprising two distinct sounds (such as a high-pitched organ and a low engine rumble). In oddball trials, they heard four identical non-target silences in which one of the two sounds went silent, followed by an oddball target, in which the other sound went silent. Subjects were asked to judge whether the target silence was longer or shorter than each of the previous non-targets.
Experiment 3: Oddball silence

Questions? Comments? Email Rui Zhe Goh (, Ian Phillips ( or Chaz Firestone (