Yanny or Laurel Explanation: A Scientific Answer to the Debate

This year's version of the original Dress illusion, explained.

If you haven’t heard it by now, Yanny or Laurel is the most divisive meme since the Dress sparked an online feud of unprecedented proportions. This year, instead of an optical illusion, the internet’s tricksters have pivoted to auditory deception.

Your roommate hears “Laurel,” you hear “Yanny,” and somehow your coworker swears they hear both as the exasperating sound clip plays over and over again in the background. This might be as close to a fever dream as you’ll experience while conscious, but find comfort in the fact that it’s not you — it’s your speakers messing with your ears and your brain. You’re not going insane.

To explain this audio phenomenon, Dana Boebinger, a speech and hearing bioscience and technology Ph.D. student, took to Twitter to explain that depending on what sound frequencies your speaker or headphones intensify could make you hear either “Yanny” or “Laurel.”

“It has to do with which frequencies of the sound are actually making it to your brain,” she wrote. “It’s a recording of a single word (there’s no trickery), but the identity of that word seems to change depending on which frequencies are amplified.”

Every sound we hear travels in waves, and the frequency of those waves determines the pitch that we hear. Boebinger included a video demonstrating how the sound clip can be manipulated so that you hear both. So depending on what frequency your sound system amps up, can completely change what you’re hearing.

But your speakers aren’t the only thing to blame. Rory Turnbull, Ph.D., an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, perviously told Inverse that “cognitive dimension” could also have a lot to do with which name you hear. All this means is that your brain loves taking shortcuts, so when it’s unsure about what it’s hearing or seeing it fills in the missing piece. Magicians and illusionists toy with this innate feature of our brain to make us see or hear things that might not be entirely accurate.

So if you’re fighting with your friend over which sound it’s actually making, take comfort in the fact that you’re both right.

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