Far from processing every word we read or hear, our brains often do not even notice key words that can change the whole meaning of a sentence, according to new research from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
After a plane crash, where should the survivors be buried?
If you are considering where the most appropriate burial place should be, you are not alone. Scientists have found that around half the people asked this question, answer it as if they were being asked about the victims not the survivors.
Similarly, when asked "Can a man marry his widow's sister?" most people answer "yes" -- effectively answering that it would indeed be possible for a dead man to marry his bereaved wife's sister.
What makes researchers particularly interested in people's failure to notice words that actually don't make sense, so called semantic illusions, is that these illusions challenge traditional models of language processing which assume that we build understanding of a sentence by deeply analysing the meaning of each word in turn.
Instead semantic illusions provide a strong line of evidence that the way we process language is often shallow and incomplete.