Imagination plays a key role in the way we see and hear things, according to new research.

Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden has revealed that our thoughts and imagination can not only affect what we see, but what we imagine seeing can affect what we hear and the way our brain interprets sound.

During the experiment, participants dealt with the illusion of two passing objects hitting each other rather than passing each other, when they imagined a sound at the moment of collision between the two objects.

The second experiment involved the volunteers’ spatial perception of a sound that was biased towards a location where they imagined seeing the brief appearance of a white circle.

In the third stage of experiment, the participants’ perception of what a person was saying was altered by their imagination of a particular sound.

The results were published in the journal Current Biology.

Professor Henrik Ehrsson, the principle investigator of the study, said: “This is the first set of experiments to definitively establish that the sensory signals generated by one’s imagination are strong enough to change one’s real-world perception of a different sensory modality.”

The study could help to shed light on why the brain is often unable to distinguish between thought and reality in conditions such as schizophrenia.

It also throws up a number of interesting questions: if our imaginations can affect our physical senses, just how much of seeing is believing? Are our imaginations able to  extend beyond the physical reality we see as well?

The link between imagination and sensory perception has long been known and is often more obvious when it comes to things such as optical illusions, but there are few documented experiments and studies into how this process takes place. This latest experiment may very well provide the key.

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