The auditory craze causing debate for the mind and ears

The auditory craze causing debate for the mind and ears

The recent internet phenomenon, “Yanny vs. Laurel” is causing people to rethink how words or names are understood and transferred from the ears to the brain. When the word is pronounced, some people hear Laurel, while others hear Yanny.

Why the difference?

The Linguistic Society of America (LSA) explains that when people pronounce words, the words are influenced from the environment, past experiences and cultural backgrounds. The verbal controversy has raised attention because Yanny vs. Laurel was originally shared over audio, but also face-to-face, causing people to hear and interpret differently.

“There are a few things that may be going on. One factor is that it depends on your auditory system,” says Christina Mishu, audiologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital. “‘Yanny’ contains more high frequency (treble) components while ‘Laurel’ has more low frequency (bass) components. People hear different sounds in different pitches, which is why the internet cannot decide which word the recording is saying. External factors may also play a part. Changing the audio system used to play the clip could also add some variation to the frequency. This could explain why one person can hear Laurel on one device and Yanny on another device.”

And a study suggests that the way people comprehend words can differ based on the context that the words are used.

Verbal skills and speech can become stronger, such as during childhood to adulthood, and can potentially weaken over time. No matter one’s verbal pace, the way that people pronounce certain letters, such as “R” in Laurel, are not always consistent. Researchers from the British Library note that it is common for people to modify the way they pronounce specific sounds due to human nature.

The researchers labeled this adjustment as “connected speech processes”, which usually occur in the English language. For example, their data illustrates there are four ways the letter “R” can be expressed in words.

They also mention that brain activity impacts word meaning because different locations of the brain indicate new functions and semantics. Specifically, they found that a word’s context is most related to the posterior middle temporal gyrus, otherwise known as the area of the brain that sparks physical motion.

The study emphasizes the brain uses prior experiences and knowledge before determining the way a word should be interpreted or pronounced. Every person processes words in their own unique way, and factors like noise or the means of communication can affect verbal understanding.

What do you hear? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. I first heard this listening to a Sirius radio program on my Kindle Fire, and I clearly heard it as Laurel; I couldn’t understand why anyone could listen to that and hear Yanny. However, when I heard it again on my laptop computer I hear Yanny, clear as anything. I tried it again using my headphones, and it was still Yanny. Obviously, the medium on which you hear it plays a huge part in determining what you hear.

  2. Hi,
    It was the other way around for me. On my TV I heard Yanny but on my laptop I heard Laurel.

  3. The first time I heard it I heard Laurel. Could not hear Yanni. Later that day in a different location the clip was played on a different phone I heard Yanni. I have also heard Georal and Geanny. So it all depends on device and location to speaker.

  4. So how do we know that the computer (or radio personality) isn’t actually just saying the word “Yanny” to those people who are hearing that word? Unless it works face to face, I’m skeptical! Did they sit some test subjects down and play them different mediums/ voices saying “laurel” and then ask each person to state what they had heard? And do we have any other audio phenomenon like this, or is this the only example? Hmmm.

  5. I’m 70 & I hear yanny.

  6. When you say thecwords yourself, note that the placement of the tongue and the movement of lips and jaw are different with each word! The mechanics for making each sound are different. The psychological component of hearing is definitely at play here.

  7. I am 68. I often ask people to repeat what they have said.

    I clearly hear “yanny”.

  8. I always hear Yanny very clearly, my husband and brother hear Laurel

  9. I hear yanny

  10. I heard Yanny clear as day on a friends Facebook page and the next day on my same phone I played it again and it said Laurel clearly. Someone has to be changing what is being said if it was the same phone, same fb page and only a day apart.

  11. I have heard both at the same time as well as separately. And funny how every time I have heard it has been on the NBC station ranging from the Today Show to Ellen to Jimmy Fallon. When they keep replaying it over, over & over again, it is different almost each time. I personally feel that someone is just trying to get a few minutes of fame by sending out different frequencies because that is extremely obvious to the high tone of “Yanny” to the low tone of “Laurel”. It reminds me of when people used to play records “backwards” because there was somehow a hidden message there. I personally think that you hear what you hear and it really doesn’t make that much of a difference because it isn’t doing anything except taking up silly time. Speaking of tone, text has no tone, so I want to make sure that I also say I am not irritated but I really am getting quite a laugh out of the obsession people are having from this! LOL

  12. Dolores Baron May 19, 2018 at 9:02 am · Reply

    I am 84 and I clearly heard Yanny

  13. I clearly hear Yanny. I did not hear any “R” pronounced.

  14. I am 71 and have some hearing loss in upper frequencies. I hear only “Laurel”, very clearly, on both my laptop and iPhone. I assume the speaker is saying “Laurel” and no other word. I wonder how often I hear something differently than others.

  15. Maybe we should blame it all on the media. When something is reported, some people hear “news”, and some people here “fake news.”

  16. I can hear both! I flip flop as im listening and I can activley change which word i hear. Yanny is high pitch and laurel is low, so i just focus on the pitch and can hear either word

  17. Interesting article. I appreciated the education. I clearly heard “Laurel” or “Yaurel” (definitely not Yanny). However, I am curious to know what the speaker or the experimenter truly said. Has anyone found out that detail? LOL

  18. I heard Yanny. Never heard Laurel. Can’t even understand how one word that begins/ends in vowels & one that begins/ends in consanents can sound the same.

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About the Author

Kelsey Andeway
Kelsey Andeway

Kelsey Andeway, health e-news contributor, is a public affairs intern at Advocate Health Care in Downers Grove. She is a senior at Loyola University Chicago earning a bachelor's degree in Communication Studies with a minor in Dance. In her free time, Kelsey enjoys dancing, baking, and taking long walks with her Chocolate Lab.