There’s this NPR show I really like called “On the Media,” and I’ve listened to just about every episode for the past 8 years through the podcast. As it’s name implies, the show is about the media, and is a wonderfully meta way of getting the news through the prism of analyzing the way the news is covered.

Throughout most of the last decade, I formed a mental image of the hosts, Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield, and those mental images include faces, though I’d only ever heard their voices. My mental image of Brooke was of an early-sixties, petite lady with greying hair, maybe something like a 1980’s era Betty White. I never realized how fundamental these mental projections were until I saw Brooke on the Colbert Report Tuesday night.

I wouldn’t have believed the cognitive dissonance for a made-up face could be so strong, but at times I literally had to close my eyes while she was talking – not because she’s bad to look at, but because there was a mouth moving, and I heard the voice I’ve been hearing every week for my entire adult life, but my brain absolutely refused to associated that voice with that face. She seemed like she was lip syncing the “real” Brooke, or like she was an impostor (maybe I have an auditory Capgras delusion).

I was honestly floored by the force of the feeling. Has anyone else experienced something similar?

P.S. – Out of curiosity, I looked up the other host, Bob Garfield, and my mental image of him was disturbingly accurate was also completely off base.

I originally posted this image:
Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield

…to the exclusion of all the images google returned of some bearded dude:
the real Bob

…because I assumed that one was just a clean-shaven version of the same person, and it fit my mental image better.

Sorry, Bob, I am ashamed 🙁

Video of Brooke on the Colbert Report discussing her new book: Influencing Machine is after the jump.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Brooke Gladstone
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive


  1. #1 Liz
    July 28, 2011

    I don’t have such firm ideas about the faces that go with radio voices, but I did find it disconcerting to meet Scott Horsley of NPR and hear a very familiar voice coming from a face I’d never seen before.

    NPR’s website does include photos of most of its reporters and hosts, so theoretically we don’t need to experience this dissonance:

  2. #2 GG
    July 28, 2011

    I had a somewhat similar experience with a TV show, but the other way around (voice/face-wise). I grew up watching McGuyver dubbed in French, then years later saw my first episode of Stargate SG1 (also starring Richard Dean Anderson) in English. I could not believe that that was Anderson’s real voice. It bugged me for a long time.

  3. #3 Kevin
    July 28, 2011

    @ Liz – Thanks for the link, I’m definitely going to peruse it. This experience was just too weird.

    @ GG – Ha! How long did it take you to get over it? I’ve watched the Colbert clip a couple times and can’t make the effect go away.

  4. #4 Bob Garfield
    July 28, 2011

    It kills me to tell you this, but that handsome dude next to Brooke is not me. I wonder what HE sounds like.

  5. #5 Elizabeth
    July 28, 2011

    Actual picture of Bob Garfield:

  6. #6 Kevin
    July 28, 2011

    @ Bob – WHAT? The internet LIED to me?!?

    Fixed 🙁

  7. #7 cope
    July 29, 2011

    I had the exact same experience when I was in grad school at the University of Illinois. I used to fall asleep every night listening to the college radio station. Over several months, I formed a mental picture of the female DJ hosting the show.

    Then, one night when I couldn’t fall asleep, I happened to be awake when she asked a trivia question (answer: The Siegel-Schall Blues Band). I phoned in the answer and was told I had won a poster (I can’t remember of whom but it was a female singer). The only catch was that I had to get the poster before the show was over so I rode my bike down to the studio and got my poster.

    The cognitive dissonance when I saw what the DJ looked like in comparison to the image my brain had constructed was extreme to say the least.

    Since then, I have tried very hard to not create mental images based on data gathered through non-visual data but not very successfully…Terry Gross of NPR being another example of personification of a voice gone horribly wrong on my part.

  8. #8 Kevin
    July 29, 2011

    @ Cope – It’s good to know I’m not alone 🙂

  9. #9 Kristen C.
    July 29, 2011

    Indeed, I get this dissonance often, I do it with music. I am an avid listener of all types of music but not an avid follower of the bands themselves i.e. reading music magazines, etc. So for those bands who have choosen not to include their pictures in the liner notes – I have been set up for a case of severe dissonance somewhere down the road.

    It often presents itself when I attend a show and I turn to my husband and exclaim, “NO! Really? That’s ___! NO!”, at least a few times throughout the performance. I did it the other day when I happened to stumble across an article on the internet about Neutral Milk Hotel and Jeff Magnum. There was a nice little picture at the top of the article that I assumed to be the author of the article. It was Jeff Magnum. I nearly fell over dead. My brain still has not accepted that image as the same man who has been singing to me from my record/cd player all these years. My brain insists, “NO! NO! It can’t be. Surely someone has made a terrible mistake…”

  10. #10 GG
    July 29, 2011

    Kevin — it took me about a season’s worth of Stargate to get over it. About 20 hours of exposure… But I don’t recommend you watch that clip looped for 20 hours. That might induce cognitive issues of a different kind 😀

  11. #11 Elizabeth Munroz
    July 30, 2011

    When living in Indianapolis during the early 80’s I listened to WFYI Public Radio. The gentleman who introduced the classical music had a distinguished resonant voice. I pictured him as some sort of Rock Hudson figure in his early 30’s. While volunteering for WFYI TV’s fund raising I had the opportunity to meet the man behind the voice. I was crestfallen, a stout grandfatherly figure. Let fantasies be fantasies, I say!!! I also had another sort of dissonance instance via email. When the internet was young, oh so few years ago, I joined an online support group. One woman in particular, and I got along famously. We had so much in common. Since I knew she successfully sold antiques in Sacramento, I pictured her as a well dressed business woman with shiny dark black hair with bangs cut just below her ears. I often imagined a navy blue suit on her as well. When members of the group decided to meet, I searched among the crowd thinking she had not arrived when, much to my dismay, and blond, well tanned farmer type woman tapped me on my shoulder. (I guess she had an accurate picture of me in her mind.) This ruined things for me so much that the emails, once flying back and forth with so much in common dwindled down to nothing. I wonder if psychologists have researched this in relationship to first impressions?

  12. #12 Kevin
    July 31, 2011

    @ Kristen – Man, this is more widespread than I anticipated. Someone needs to do a study. Any cognitive neuroscientists out there? I offer myself and my commenters as test subjects.

    @ GG – Good point 🙂

    @ Elizabeth – That’s interesting that it extends to pictures we form of people through text as well. To my knowledge, no one’s done any research on this, but it’s not my field. I tweeted @vaughanbell of to see if he had any ideas, but he never responded 🙁

  13. #13 JenM
    August 1, 2011

    I regularly experience this. I have seen pictures or have met in person a few of my favorite podcasters or online lecturers. I cannot negotiate the picture I have in my head with the real thing, especially if I have been listening for a long time and have a firmly established mental picture (if I see a picture when I have only listened a couple times, it seems to be easier to go over to the new image). When listening, I continue to use my created mental picture even after I have seen the real person.

  14. #14 JohnS
    August 12, 2011

    When the secretary from another company turned out to be the complete opposite of the secretary from Ghostbusters, I was very disappointed. My image was based on the nasal voice that I heard for five years before visiting the company. I still laugh about it. I would bet that she was just as disappointed upon meeting me.

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