The Yanny/Laurel soundwave

If you’ve spent time on the Internet this week, you may have come across the audio clip of a voice saying either “yanny” or “laurel.” Just over half the people who listen to the clip – about 53 percent – hear Laurel, while the other 47 percent hear yanny. But which one is right, and what’s causing this divide?

Is it yanny or laurel?

First, the word is actually laurel. But this interesting phenomenon was discovered by a teenager who was playing audio clips of vocabulary words and kept hearing “yanny.” She posted the clip on Instagram, and the rest is Internet history.

CEENTA Audiologist Eric Tyler, AuD

So what is happening? As it turns out, yanny and laurel are acoustically very similar, CEENTA Audiologist Eric Tyler, AuD, said.

The same person can even hear both versions of the word if they hear it from two different devices, such as a phone and computer speakers.

Also, the word you hear depends on the sound frequencies your ears pick up. People who hear higher frequencies hear yanny, while those who don’t hear laurel.

As you get older, you tend to lose the ability to hear at higher frequencies, while teenagers and children can usually hear them. However, there are plenty of adults who hear yanny, and plenty of young people who hear laurel.

This hearing difference is well known, and some companies have even taken advantage of this frequency discrepancy for business purposes. For example, some people have developed ringtones with such a high frequency that teenagers can hear them but adults can’t. Conversely, some security companies have developed machines that develop a high-pitched tone uncomfortable to teenagers so they don’t loiter around stores. Adults, on the other hand, don’t hear it and can shop comfortably.

Dr. Tyler also said that if the quality of the recording is low, your brain will fill in the gaps in the sounds, so you may end up “hearing” one word or the other.

So why not take a few seconds today to try this out? It’ll be interesting to learn what you and your friends hear.

To read more interesting hearing information, check out the audiology blog page.


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