Team Yanny or Team Laurel: It’s About Perception

yanny or laurel

The viral audio clip that has divided the internet rages on. The simple question posed by one Twitter user on Tuesday – “What do you hear: Yanny or Laurel?” – has spurred a digital debate the likes of which no one has seen since “the dress.”

Twitter data showed that 53 percent hear “laurel,” and 47 percent of their users hear “yanny.” While the mystery has been somewhat “solved,” HCA Healthcare Today brought in Missy Coyne, a speech language pathologist at Rose Medical Center in Denver specializing in language, cognition, and speech—and a member of Team Laurel—to discuss why listeners hear the same word differently. (Read more after the clip below.)

“There are multiple reasons that play into why some people hear one word and others hear another,” said Coyne, who helps treat patients who have suffered strokes and have been diagnosed with conditions like dementia and autism. “A lot of it deals with a person’s perception and what they’ve heard in the world around them.”

Other reasons include:

  • The quality of the audio recording. It was a pretty poor recording in general, she says. So, what someone hears will depend on if they were listening from a computer, headphones or mobile device. It could sound different because of the way the sound was filtered through the speaker.
  • The word options are visible. The fact that it’s online and people can see the words in front of them plays into their perception too. Many times, if you read something first – and in this particular scenario, yanny is listed initially – that is what someone will hear.
  • It has to do with frequency. If someone has a preference for low frequency, then they will likely hear laurel. If they are picking up on the high frequency, yanny is probably what they will comprehend.
    • We measure frequency in hertz. Male voices are typically lower frequency because of the way their vocal chords are made. Their chords are much thicker and it vibrates more slowly. This is opposed to women, whose vocal chords are thinner and vibrate more quickly, and therefore a higher fundamental frequency.
    • The higher the frequency, the higher the pitch. Pitch is a sensory perception of frequency – it’s how we perceive the frequency of a sound.
  • Hearing plays a role. Depending on one’s hearing, a person might have an easier time catching low frequency versus high frequency. Or, if someone has some hearing loss, they might hear one word over the other, depending on what their preference is.

There are a lot of different factors at play, making this a contentious debate.

How much of our brain is influencing how we hear this audio clip?

The majority. Our brains will likely go back to what we already know, what’s familiar, what we’ve heard or seen before and place that perception on something new. For example, everyone sees purple but their shade of purple might be different from another’s shade of purple. The same can be said for auditory stimuli.

Can someone hear both words?

The short answer is: yes. If we look at the word through a visualization software like a spectrogram, we can actually see the strength of the sound that the recording is producing. It doesn’t really match up with either word. The spectrogram in this recording is somewhere in the middle, so that’s why some people are hearing yanny and some are hearing laurel – and some people are hearing a combination of the two.

Spoiler alert: We now know the original clip was found on page and is, in fact, a recording of the word: “laurel.” Mystery solved.

Watch as Missy Coyne discusses the internet issue and the Rose Medical staff debates the audio clip on the Denver Fox affiliate here. What did you hear?

Missy Coyne is a speech and language pathologist at HealthONE’s Rose Medical Center in Denver, Colo. Rose Medical Center is an affiliate of HCA Healthcare.

About HCA Healthcare

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