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Yanny vs. Laurel: Why do we hear different words?

Last updated on Sep 6, 2018

Is it “Yanny” or “Laurel”? A short audio clip has created the latest debate since the blue or white dress controversy, leaving the internet divided. Some people hear “Yanny,” while others are confident it’s “Laurel.”

The 4-second clip was first posted on Reddit, spreading quickly to Twitter, Facebook, and news sources such as NPR and The New York Times. Listen here for yourself.

The science behind the debate

So why are people hearing two entirely different words? The simple answer is because of frequency. Yanny is a high frequency word, whereas Laurel is a low frequency word. Because we usually lose the ability to hear high frequencies first, many older people and those with hearing loss are more likely to hear Laurel.

Our in-house audiologist also explains that fatigue can have something to do with it. If you are able to hear both words, you’re more likely to hear Yanny in the morning when your brain is fresher. In the evening, you’re more likely to hear Laurel because your brain is tired of listening, thus making is more difficult to attend to speech, particularly high frequency sounds.

In an article by The Atlantic, a linguist expert explains how this controversy has to do with pitch, the perception of frequency. By changing the pitch of the recording, you can adjust what you hear. In general, people hear Yanny more consistently when the pitch is lowered and Laurel when the pitch is increased.

The real winner of yanny and laurel

Although it’s possible to hear both words, the clip actually originated from Vocabulary.com in a recording for how to pronounce the word “laurel”. So congratulations to all the “Laurel” hearers out there—you’ve won this round of internet debate.

Are you starting to have difficulty hearing high frequencies? Hearing aids could improve your quality of life.

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