Cambiata Illusion

When you play this audio high, most people hear higher tones in one ear (right or left, depending as below) and lower tones in the other. Listen to the track carefully for about 30 seconds. Try to figure out which pattern you hear, if it’s a pattern at all. When you’re ready, reverse the headphones. Even though the headphones have been reversed, most people will hear the same patterns in the same ears. Logic says this is impossible, and yet . . .

How It Works

Audio experimenter Diana Deutsch developed this audio high to demonstrate how different people’s brains can interpret the same pattern in a multitude of ways. What you will be hearing are two sets of notes playing simultaneously in each ear. These notes are opposite one another; as one high note sounds in one ear, a low note counters it in the other. Right-handers are likely to hear a higher pattern of notes on the right ear and a lower pattern on the left ear. For left-handers, the opposite. (Remember both right- and left-handers are hearing the exact same pattern played in the same ears.)

A small percentage of people don’t hear high or low patterns at all, but alternating melodies and notes disconnecting in time with various stops. Some hear the two patterns in each ear and another pattern at the center of the head. Cambiata Illusion and Chromatic Illusion, demonstrate how the same sounds can be perceived totally differently from listener to listener, audience to audience, even ear to ear.

For more fun, listen to Cambiata Illussion on your stereo speakers. Most people will hear a pattern of high three-tone melody that is close in pitch, and another melody that is similar but lower. As you play the pattern, shift the balance to the far left and then to the far right and the pattern becomes random and spotty. Shift it back to center and (to most of us) a pattern is again discernible.

Cambiata Illusion © Diana Deutsch 2003. Learn more about Deutsch’s amazing work at