What is reverse speech?

Reverse speech is a phenomenon in which people allegedly incorporate backwards statements in oral communications. Most people regard the idea as pseudoscience, arguing that it is difficult to demonstrate reverse speech under controlled and repeatable conditions. The man who claimed to discover it, David John Oates, an Australian hypnotherapist, was also one of its main promoters.

The underlying ideas behind the theories that Oates proposes are reasonably sound. The subconscious can have an impact on how people frame oral communications, and people may inadvertently express the subconscious thought when they speak out loud. The reverse discourse theory, however, is quite dubious. According to Oates, it is possible to reproduce selected oral statements made by a person to cover the hidden interjections of the subconscious, 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 sound chains in static and other purposeless noise. This mind trick can play a role in auditory perception and is often pointed to as the real culprit when people claim to hear things like disembodied voices. When people listen to speech 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 advocates claim to hear words and phrases when playing sentences backwards, but it is difficult to independently verify these. Upside down speech may sound significant, but people may disagree about the meaning. Speech-language pathologists and others who study speech production believe that people are unlikely to be able to speak backwards while constructing spoken sentences, and they caution against applying reverse speech to activities 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 musical recordings can attest. The subconscious often expresses itself in a variety of ways, and believers in reverse language can use it for everything from psychotherapy to analyzing speeches made by public figures. Other cues can provide much more information about what is going on at a subconscious level, and are backed by research; things like facial expression, body movement, and word choice can be revealing when people analyze them to learn more about what someone is thinking or feeling.

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