The perception of visible speech: Estimation of speech rate and detection of time reversals

Paolo Viviani, Francesca Figliozzi, Francesco Lacquaniti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Four experiments investigated the perception of visible speech. Experiment 1 addressed the perception of speech rate. Observers were shown video-clips of the lower face of actors speaking at their spontaneous rate. Then, they were shown muted versions of the video-clips, which were either accelerated or decelerated. The task (scaling) was to compare visually the speech rate of the stimulus to the spontaneous rate of the actor being shown. Rate estimates were accurate when the video-clips were shown in the normal direction (forward mode). In contrast, speech rate was underestimated when the video-clips were shown in reverse (backward mode). Experiments 2-4 (2AFC) investigated how accurately one discriminates forward and backward speech movements. Unlike in Experiment 1, observers were never exposed to the sound track of the video-clips. Performance was well above chance when playback mode was crossed with rate modulation, and the number of repetitions of the stimuli allowed some amount of speechreading to take place in forward mode (Experiment 2). In Experiment 3, speechreading was made much more difficult by using a different and larger set of muted video-clips. Yet, accuracy decreased only slightly with respect to Experiment 2. Thus, kinematic rather then speechreading cues are most important for discriminating movement direction. Performance worsened, but remained above chance level when the same stimuli of Experiment 3 were rotated upside down (Experiment 4). We argue that the results are in keeping with the hypothesis that visual perception taps into implicit motor competence. Thus, lawful instances of biological movements (forward stimuli) are processed differently from backward stimuli representing movements that the observer cannot perform.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-161
Number of pages21
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


  • Inverted faces
  • Motor-perceptual interactions
  • Speech rate
  • Speechreading
  • Visible speech

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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