Culture Science

Do you hear ‘Yanny’ or ‘Laurel’ in this audio illusion?

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The web talked up a storm yesterday over an audio clip that purportedly pronounced one of two words depending on your ears: Yanny or Laurel.

Here’s the clip. Which do you hear?

While the majority of listeners report hearing “Yanny,” myself included (I listened on my laptop), hearing scientist Brad Story at the University of Arizona reveals that that waveform actually reveals “laurel.”

 So, with a low quality recording (as is the one in question) and a wide variety of devices on which people are listening, it is not surprising that some might hear something like ‘yanny.’

Via Brad Story

Your auditory perception ultimately depends on your sound card and your ears, with higher or lower frequencies impacting the results. But your brain and previous experiences are also variables, as is how people see the cue in their timelines and fill in the rest with the imagination. Writes The Verge:

…the visual prompt that comes with the audio, Yanny or Laurel. That might help shape what people hear. Here’s another example of how prompts shape what we hear: the same word can sound like “bill,” “pail,” or “mayo” depending on what’s on-screen.

The sound debate reminds me of a quote I read recently in one of Paul Theroux’s [easyazon_link identifier=”0618658947″ locale=”US” tag=”wells01-20″]travel books[/easyazon_link]. He writes: “I’ve got a theory that what you hear influences – maybe even determines – what you see.”

Like the disputed blue and black or white and gold dress, the Yanny vs Laurel divide will rage on.

What’s the frequency, Kenneth?

By Wells Baum

Wells Baum is a daily blogger who writes about Life & Arts. He's also the author of and four books.