The Yanny / Laurel Phenomenon Explained

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Yanny / Laurel Phenomenon

For many times now, the Internet has successfully caused heated debates between the netizens. From political to religious views, beauty to sports opinions, and even petty topics such as the colour of a dress. If you could recall, there was this picture of a dress that made viral in the year 2015. Was it black and blue or white and gold? No one could really prove. And in 2018, it was our ears that the Internet has played with.

What is the “Yanny or Laurel” audio clip?

The audio snippet features a woman saying the names “Yanny” / “Laurel” in a neutral tone and repeated manner. This caused an international debate between two camps—one group saying they only hear the person saying “Yanny” and other one opposing as they only hear the word “Laurel”.

The Explanation

So, what sorcery is there really is with this “Yanny or Laurel” audio clip that caused the difference in what we hear. Why are we interpreting the sound differently from the others? Here are a couple of factors.

1. Sound and pronunciation

The woman in the clip isn’t exactly saying either “Yanny” or “Laurel”. It’s actually somewhere in the middle as the words aren’t velarized, meaning, her tongue wasn’t touching the back of her mouth’s soft palate when the words were spoken. This caused a discrepancy in the l/y sound. Another factor is nasalisation which made “au” sound more like the consonant “n”.

2. Sound waves

When you map out the sound waves of the two words, you can see that they’re almost the same. Whether you’re listening to it on your phone, a tablet, a desktop, or even if you’re just wearing earphones, it would still be the same.

3. We hear what we want to hear

It might seem weird, but this one is actually true—we hear what we want to hear. Think of it this way. You’re talking to someone but there’s a good song that you want to listen to playing in the background. This can cause you to easily ignore the person you’re speaking to as your brain makes its way out to listen to the song.

4. Age of our ears

As we age, there are many parts of our body that loses its functionality. Our vision gets blurry, our bones brittle, and our comprehension weakens. Similarly, our ears experience this. As we age, we are less able to hear higher frequencies of sounds. So if you hear Yanny, it only means that you have younger ears.

So, there you go! Now, listen to the clip again. Are you hearing “Laurel” or “Yanny”? Whatever it is, know that there is no magic going on in that audio. It’s just pure science. However, if you really feel that something is wrong with your hearing, you can visit Listening Lab Malaysia for hearing evaluation.