Hearing Experts Debunk the Yanny vs Laurel Mystery

The Yanny vs. Laurel viral sensation mixed with auditory illusion has stirred the world into widespread internet debate. So, we decided to find some crystal clear truth on why you may hear one and not the other.

When you think of some of the all time greatest matchups to date, you may think of Rocky vs. Ivan Drago, Captain America vs. Iron Man, or the notorious White/Gold vs. Black/Blue dress. Now, another contender joins the ranks… Yanny vs. Laurel.

If you haven’t heard the sound yet, listen for yourself below:

The internet has erupted into the next Great Debate over a recent video initially created by vocabulary.com of a computer-generated voice saying the word “Laurel” - at least that’s what some people hear. 

In the other corner, you have the staunch defenders of #TeamYanny, believing this to be the true name. In miraculous fashion, this conversation has taken the world by storm and probably split a couple families and relationships by this point.

<em>Image Credit</em>: <a href="https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/yanny" target="_blank">Vocabulary.com</a>
Image Credit: Vocabulary.com

Ellen briefly mentions that the explanation as to why some hear Laurel and others hear Yanny comes down to pitch, as well as the fact that “Laurel” is indeed the actual word being played. The answer behind this lies in the way our ears and brain work together to process incoming sound at different pitch/frequency levels.

Factors in How We Hear

In an interview with Time, Dr. Kevin Franck, Director of Audiology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, explains that the brain uses a number of different variables, some that have accumulated over the course of our lives, to interpret sound on the cognitive level. 

These can include your dialect, how the sound is being played - through speakers, headphones, etc. - as well as factors like age, and possibilities of partial hearing loss that has gone unnoticed.

In the case of Yanny vs. Laurel, the piece of the puzzle that has split the masses is a person’s hearing proficiency for either higher or lower frequency noises. The graph below was created by auditory neuroscientist, Gabriella Musacchia after conducting brain scans of her students listening to the noise at University of the Pacific, where she is an Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Audiology. 

Musacchia explained the results to Salon, noting:

"What happens is that our brain decides within the first 100 milliseconds whether or not you will hear Y or L based on how well your brain responds to the frequencies between Y and L.”


The graph below highlights the ranges that someone on each side of the debate is likely to hear more often.
<em>Image Credit:</em> <a href="https://www.salon.com/2018/05/16/by-studying-her-students-brain-activity-a-neuroscientist-may-have-cracked-the-yannylaurel-mystery/" target="_blank">Salon.com</a>
Image Credit: Salon.com
What this could mean, in theory, is that someone that hears Laurel is more likely to process sound in a lower frequency than someone hearing Yanny. The same logic applies in the way that someone on Team Yanny is proficient within a higher range of pitch. It also relates to how your mind intends to interpret the word from the immediate first moment of looking at it.

Once again, science comes to the rescue. No matter what you hear, I think we can all agree that anything that gets the entire world to start talking about their hearing is a win in our book!

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