Yanny vs. Laurel: What does it say about me if I hear one thing or another?

 

The internet sensation Yanny vs. Laurel has been the subject of many debates speculating about the science behind the audio conundrum. Some people speculate the age of the listener determines what people hear when playing the seconds-long clip, while others are convinced the pitch of the two names alters the results.

“All listeners come down solidly on one side or the other — as with that famous or infamous dress three years ago that people saw either as white and gold or blue and black,” says UC Health Audiologist Aura Lee Elder, Au.D. F-AAA.

In fact, according to a recent Twitter poll, 47% hear “Yanny” and 53% hear “Laurel”.

“It is certainly fun to have a debate and to see what our favorite celebrities, YouTubers, and friends perceive.  Why just in polling the Audiologists at UCHealth, we have a 5 to 4 split in favor of Laurel,” says Elder.

For those wondering what the interpretation of this message means, Elder adds that “it might not say anything about you individually but could be a number of factors that influence your perception of Yanny vs. Laurel.”

The Science Behind Yanny vs. Laurel

From a scientific perspective, Elder explains that one person might hear “Yanny” while another hears “Laurel” due to factors like:

#1. Age and high frequency hearing sensitivity.  Degree and configuration of hearing can play a role in how we hear the stimulus.

#2. Recording quality. Differing recording quality can cause ambiguity (depending on the recording you have found, and whether or not it is balanced versus high or low pass filtering).

#3. The listening device. A listener’s interpretation of the audio clip can also depend on the device that is being used at the time of playing the audio clip. Did you hear the recoding through headphones or a speaker? From your phone or computer?

#4. Individual variability in ears. We are all unique. In fact, a slight degree of difference in the size and configuration of your individual ear, compared to that of someone else, can affect the sounds you are hearing. Ear canal resonance, or the way that your ear canal delivers sound to the Auditory system, is particular to the individual and depends on, for example, the length, volume and curvature of the ear.

#5. The possibilities are endless! This is a case of an auditory Rorschach test. This means the way your brain processes sound, equates to your “hearing” – and thus your perception of the world. Factors such as dialect, color and visual presentation of the words in the original graphic, predisposition to foreign languages, preference for the word Yanni vs. Laurel, and so on. Ultimately, the list is probably endless in terms of influencing factors!

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