Can experience change perception? Here, we examine whether language experience shapes the way individuals process auditory and visual information. We used the McGurk effect—the discovery that when people hear a speech sound (e.g., “ba”) and see a conflicting lip movement (e.g., “ga”), they recognize it as a completely new sound (e.g., “da”). This finding that the brain fuses input across auditory and visual modalities demonstrates that what we hear is profoundly influenced by what we see. We find that cross-modal integration is affected by language background, with bilinguals experiencing the McGurk effect more than monolinguals. This increased reliance on the visual channel is not due to decreased language proficiency, as the effect was observed even among highly proficient bilinguals. Instead, we propose that the challenges of learning and monitoring multiple languages have lasting consequences for how individuals process auditory and visual information.
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