I hear phantom music when I use a white noise machine, and I'm not alone: understanding auditory pareidolia

I use a travel-size USB-chargeable white noise machine to help me sleep. One odd thing about using it is that I often hear phantom music. Sometimes it's a reggae song, other times a rock guitar solo, a children's song, or a commercial jingle. It's always just a 2- or 3-second snippet that repeats. If I turn off or move the white noise machine closer, the phantom music stops.

Curious about whether others experience these phantom sounds, I discovered that I'm not alone. According to this article by Jazz Shaw in The Debrief, this phenomenon is called auditory pareidolia, and it's more common than you might think.

Dr. Neil Bauman, an expert who has studied this for decades, explains that auditory pareidolia occurs when "your brain tries to come up with its best guess as to what pattern of sound it is hearing."

He explains, "Because these monotonous background sounds don't have much of a distinct pattern in the first place, it is hard for it to find a good fit. However, it attempts to fit the closest pattern it already has in its memory to what you are hearing."

Essentially, your brain tricks itself into perceiving voices, songs, or other familiar sounds from the random noise.

While it may be concerning to hear voices in your head, Dr. Bauman reassures that "you are not crazy, and it is not a mental condition. Rather, this is a normal phenomenon." He notes that everyone likely experiences auditory pareidolia sometimes, even if they are unaware of it.

See more stories about hallucinations on Boing Boing.