Who knew one simple video clip posted back in May 2018 by a high schooler on Reddit would catch the ear of social media influencer and YouTuber Cloe Feldman, who then turned it into a viral sensation.
Almost immediately, “Yanny VS Laurel” was the new debate heard around the world.
One person hears “Yanny.” Another person hears “Laurel.” Some people might even hear both!
Who is right? Dr. Michael Latshaw, Otolaryngologist / ENT (ear, nose, and throat) physician at UAB Medical West Hospital, helps us to gain a better understanding of why some of us are hearing Yanny and others are hearing Laurel.
What Does It Mean If You Hear Yanny, Laurel, or Both?
So, what does it all mean when it comes to hearing “Yanny” or “Laurel”?
“This is a very complicated neuro-cognitive question and has more to do with the brain’s interpretation of sound then it does with whether or not a person hears the video clip on a certain speaker that is adjusted for volume or treble or base,” explains Dr. Latshaw. “Like certain visual cues or other optical illusions, the brain can interpret certain sounds based on an individual’s wiring.”
There are several examples of optical illusions that can be seen in different ways by people, such as the photograph of the dress that became a viral Internet sensation back in 2015. While some people saw a white and gold dress, others saw a black and blue dress.
Another example is the face illusion of the young/old woman.
However, when it comes to the “Yanny VS Laurel” audio clip, there are also different sounds being blended together.
“The best explanation I have found is from Dr. Mario Svirsky,” Dr. Latshaw states. “When the first of the word - the Y or L sound - is broken down into its frequencies, we hear the letter L or Y depending on if our brain accounts for all the frequencies in this sound or just the peak frequencies.”
For instance, if a person’s brain hears and accounts for all the frequencies of sound, or the “antiresonances,” then the person is more likely to hear the “L” sound, thus interpreting the audio clip as saying “Laurel.”
But, if the brain ignores all these antiresonances and focuses on the two peak frequencies, then the person is more apt to hear “Y” sound, or “Yanny.”
“It’s also important to remember that a person’s brain is meant to take information and sort it based on the context for which they are given,” Dr. Latshaw says. “For instance, two words that sound the same, such as ‘there’ and ‘their,’ are going to be interpreted differently by the brain based on the way they are used in a sentence.”
In the instance of “Yanny VS Laurel,” there is no other context. Therefore, the person’s brain is forced to decide, making either interpretation correct based on the individual.
In fact, Dr. Latshaw states that he has even been able to hear both sounds based on his own perception of the sound.
Is It Time to Get Your Hearing Checked?
If anything has come from the Yanny VS Laurel debate, it is the fact people are now thinking more seriously about their hearing health.
“The Yanny and Laurel viral sensation is helping people to stop and question whether or not they are able to hear a full range of sounds,” explains Dr. Latshaw. “If an individual has issues hearing high-pitched sounds on the television or radio, or even his or her spouse’s voice, it may now prompt them to seek an ENT specialist rather than wait or ignore the issue.”
Particularly if he or she has not had one in the past.