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Currently making waves on social media is Yanny versus Laurel. If you aren’t familiar with this latest sensation, it’s basically this: an audio clip that sounds like Yanny to some and Laurel to others!

This is similar (actually, it’s déjà vu) to the viral “dress” — appearing blue and black or white and gold — debate back in 2015. A National Geographic article explained the difference in the perception of colors due to the reflection of various wavelengths of light by the eye.



But while the world is still fighting over that issue, here comes another one!

What Do You Hear: Yanny or Laurel?

The clip first appeared on Reddit a few days ago, and then went viral when a YouTuber, Cloe Feldman posted it on her social media accounts asking the eternal question, “What do you hear?! Yanny or Laurel.”

This new-age phenomenon is being considered by some experts as an audio illusion, and they have been known to differ from visual illusions.

Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist, stated “Audio illusions necessarily exist within time -- you have to play the audio clip over and over again to experience them. Whereas visual illusions can stay static while you examine them or zoom in on them or cover parts of them, so it feels more like you’re in control.”

But other specialists in the field with differing viewpoints have disagreed with this situation being called an illusion. Assistant professor of audition and cognitive neuroscience, Lars Riecke of Maastricht University, referred to it as something like a “Rubin’s vase,” which can be defined as an ambiguous, bi-stable figure.

A report in Curiosity has suggested that sometimes when audio clips are supposed to sound a certain way, they may make you believe the content. In an audio message, the brain recognizes speech first, the words and only then the corresponding meaning.

In 2014, an AsapSCIENCE video exhibited the McGurk effect of the brain of saying what you see. The video shows a man audibly saying the word, "bar," continuously and he gradually mouths the word, “far." The brain confuses the two and picks what it sees over what it hears.

This kind of mechanism was also validated in a study conducted by Davis, M. H et al. in 2006. The paper indicated that the brain had a “special” manner of processing speech.

But in certain cases, the ears may override the eyes too. However, the Yanny vs. Laurel posting does not have any visuals. So, what’s going on there? This part is still uncertain, which makes the dilemma even more difficult to decipher.

An audio clip of the popular Yanny vs Laurel debate that is driving the internet crazy

An article on Vox has offered the explanation that the clip is a play on the wide range of frequencies that humans can hear.

There are three types of sound frequencies that are audible during speech, the lowest of which is required to hear the L’s and R’s (of Laurel). Likewise, the movement of the second frequency is necessary to hear Yanny. The problem arises because both these frequencies follow the same pattern.

Simply put, if you’re hearing Yanny, you’ve got the higher frequency, and Laurel means that your ears are picking up the lower one.

In an interview, Brad Story of the Arizona State University, said, “There’s just enough ambiguity in this fairly low-quality recording that [some] people are hearing it one way and some people are hearing it another.” Linguistic professor at the University of Hawaii, Rory Turnbull, has also backed this clarification.

So, apart from all possible reasonings, it is just likely that the confusion is because of the low-quality of the recording.

So, apart from all possible reasonings, it is just likely that the difference in opinion is because of the low-quality of the recording.

Ultimately, whether you have heard or Yanny or Laurel, it doesn’t matter (good news!) because it is indeed a cool illusion to perceive. Until the scientists figure out how exactly the brain interprets sound, let’s keep ourselves sane and trust our senses!

Top Image: The audio illusion, ‘Yanny vs Laurel’ has listeners conflicted. (Source: Getty Images/Ringer Illustration)

Meghna's picture

Meghna Rao, MSc

A postgraduate in Bioscience with work experience in research and communications in the fields of science, health and medicine. Her specializations include writing and developing scientific material for websites, blogs, and other print and digital media, content curation and management, and medical proofreading and editing. She also has a fair knowledge in marketing communications and science journalism. Also, Meghna is passionate about yoga, working with non-profits and travel blogging. Read More

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