It turns out that humans may prioritize visual cues over auditory ones, even when we're supposed to be judging the quality of music.
A new study from Harvard graduate and University College London professor Chia-Jung Tsay used video and sound recordings from live classical music competitions and asked participants to guess which performer had won. The participants won $8 payouts for guessing correctly. Some were given just the audio, others the video with audio, and others just saw the video.
Surprisingly, the participants with the highest accuracy rate were the ones who saw only the video. Participants who reviewed the video with audio scored slightly better than those who got only the audio. The finding held true for participants with no musical training as well as professional musicians.
Those who saw only video predicted the winners much more accurately
"What this suggests is that there may be a way that visual information is prioritized over information from other modalities," Tsay told The Harvard Gazette. "In this case, it suggests that the visual trumps the audio, even in a setting where audio information should matter much more."
These competitions matched top-tier musicians, meaning there is often little discernible difference in the sound. The finding could mean that both the study participants and the judges in the original competitions gave visual performances more weight, but it could also mean that skill is reflected in a musician's body language.
Then again, perhaps we shouldn't be so surprised. Past research has shown that orchestra auditions had vastly different outcomes when musicians played behind screens, increasing a woman's chance of advancing to the next round by 50 percent.