Listening While Talking
Exploratorium, San Francisco 

$2.1 M NSF award
User research: summative  |  AAM article

The visitor picks up a phone to both hear jokes and enable an unseen computer to detect when they’re speaking. The catch: they only hear jokes while speaking; when they pause, the jokes pause as well. Visitors of all ages find it incredibly difficult to make sense of even simple jokes, discovering what scientists call articulatory suppression in the brain’s phonological loop.

My inspiration came from a comment by Steve Seidel (of Harvard’s Project Zero) that “one of the greatest obstacles to children's learning is they don't understand they can’t listen while talking.” I wanted to enable visitors to find out for themselves if this is really true.

We incorporated a version of this exhibit into the Sound Uncovered App

Photo by Gayle Laird and Sue Pomon

Photo by Gayle Laird and Sue Pomon