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Why You Hear “Yanny” or “Laurel” — or Both

Expert Chats

Why do some people hear “Yanny” while others hear “Laurel”? Mass. Eye and Ear Director of Audiology Dr. Kevin Franck answers the question you’ve been wondering about all week. 

It’s the 2018 version of “the dress.” But this time, instead of debating whether it’s blue or white, the Internet is divided between “Yanny” and “Laurel.”

A viral audio clip that was shared on Reddit earlier this week sparked a conversation that asked subscribers what name they heard. As it was shared across social media platforms, some claimed that they heard a deep male voice saying, “Laurel,” while others heard “Yanny” in a higher-pitched voice.

Now, it’s the question everyone is talking about. Have a listen:

So, which is it?

It’s been determined that the clip is actually saying “Laurel”. But the question remains: why do some people hear “Yanny,” or even a combination of both names instead?

Mass. Eye and Ear Director of Audiology Kevin Franck, Ph.D., MBA, CCC-A, says that it “all comes down to the brain. The fact that some brains go in one way and some brains go in the other means that we’re all just wired a bit differently based on our experiences.”

Turning Messy Signals Into Meaning

Our brains go through a number of cognitive processes when assigning meaning to sound. Ultimately, the brain wants to eliminate confusion as it tries to make sense of sound. It will draw upon your experiences to give you this answer and, sometimes, especially when you have limited information and a lack of vocal cues, the brain can interpret things a bit differently.

Factors such as your native language, dialect and where you grew up could also affect the way your brain interprets sound.

“The brain is built to turn messy signals into meaning,” said Dr. Franck. “Spoken language puts relatively arbitrary barriers around this and can turn it into very different meanings. Those boundaries could be drastically or subtly different for each of us.”

Dr. Franck also noted we all hear a bit differently because of the condition of our ears, and that external factors such as technology could also play a role – noted by those who heard “Yanny” on one device and “Laurel” on another. In other words, the quality of the technology you’re listening to can influence what you hear.

For more thoughts from Dr. Franck on this phenomenon, check out stories from TIME, Boston Globe and WBZ-TV.

About Our Expert

Kevin Franck, Ph.D., MBA, CCC-A, is Director of Audiology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear.

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