Explaining The Yanny-Laurel Meme That Everyone Is Hearing Differently

First, there was “ The dress,” and now, there’s “Yanny or Laurel?” If you haven’t come across the post over the past couple days, here’s the story: On May 14th, Cloe Feldman took to Twitter to post a video featuring an audio clip of a voice saying… something, and she asks, “What do you hear?! Yanny or Laurel?” Those words should sound very different, so it seems like the answer would be obvious, but as the post’s popularity has proven, it’s actually really up for debate.

https://twitter.com/CloeCouture/status/996218489831473152I personally tested it with my family, and sure enough, while I and a couple others heard “Laurel,” the rest of the crew swore they were hearing “Yanny.” It’s been widely established now that different people hear the audio differently and it’s confusing, but what’s the deal? Now, a couple days after the meme exploded, we have some answers.

Probably the most concise explanation comes courtesy of  Rachel Becker and Elizabeth Lopatto of The Verge, who write:

“The secret is frequency. The acoustic information that makes us hear Yanny is higher frequency than the acoustic information that makes us hear Laurel. Some of the variation may be due to the audio system playing the sound, [Lars Riecke, an assistant professor of audition and cognitive neuroscience at Maastricht University] says. But some of it is also the mechanics of your ears, and what you’re expecting to hear.

Older adults tend to start losing their hearing at the higher frequency ranges, which could explain why Riecke could only hear Laurel, but his eight-year-old daughter could hear Yanny. It’s a phenomenon you can mimic on a computer, he says: if you remove all the low frequencies, you hear Yanny. If you remove the high frequencies, you hear Laurel.”

The video below illustrates this pretty well: By slowing down and speeding up the audio (which changes the sound’s pitch), you can start to hear the word differently (at least, I did).

If you’re interested in how this audio actually started to blow up, The New York Times details how students discovered the aural illusion on the vocabulary.com page for “laurel” (so if you’re looking for an objective answer, the word being said is definitely “laurel”).

Is this the weirdest online illusion you’ve ever heard? Are you #TeamYanni or #TeamLaurel? Defend your side in the comments below!

Featured image: Paul Scott/Flickr

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