What’s reverse speech?

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Reverse speech, the alleged incorporation of backwards statements into spoken communications, is regarded as pseudoscience due to the difficulty in proving it under controlled, repeatable conditions. While the subconscious mind can impact verbal communication, the reverse speech theory is dubious and often attributed to pareidolia. Speech therapists caution against using it for criminal investigations and suggest analyzing other clues such as facial expression, body movement, and word choice.

Reverse speech is a phenomenon where people allegedly incorporate backwards statements into spoken communications. Most people regard the idea as pseudoscience, arguing that it is difficult to prove reverse speech under controlled, repeatable conditions. The man who claimed to discover it, David John Oates, an Australian who practices hypnotherapy, was also one of its main promoters.

The ideas behind the theories proposed by Oates are reasonably sound. The subconscious mind can impact how people frame verbal communications, and it’s possible for people to unknowingly express unconscious thoughts when they speak out loud. The reverse speech theory, however, is rather dubious. According to Oates, selected verbal statements made by a person can be reproduced to cover up hidden subconscious interjections, which may contradict or add to the original statement.

The main problem with spoken speech is a documented phenomenon known as pareidolia, the tendency to hear meaningful strings of sounds in static and other noises without purpose. This trick of the mind may play a role in auditory perception and is often singled out as the real culprit when people claim to hear things like disembodied voices. When people hear speech played backwards, the brain struggles to make sense of the sound and can apply meaning to it. Two different people can hear the same statement played at the same speed and come up with different interpretations.

Reverse speech proponents claim to hear words and sentences when they play sentences backwards, but it is difficult to independently verify these. Reverse speech may seem meaningful, but people may disagree about the meaning. Speech therapists and others who study speech production find it unlikely that people can speak backwards as they construct spoken sentences, and caution against applying reverse speech to tasks such as criminal investigations.

The idea of ​​hidden messages in spoken and written communications is very old, as numerous urban legends about mysterious phrases embedded in music recordings can attest. The subconscious often expresses itself in a variety of ways, and believers in reverse speech can use it for everything from psychotherapy to analyzing speeches made by public figures. Other clues can provide much more information about what is happening on a subconscious level and are supported by research; things like facial expression, body movement, and word choice can be revealing when people analyze them to gain more insight into what someone is thinking or feeling.

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