The 'Laurel' or 'Yanny' debate is actually more insightful than you think.
Do you hear "Laurel" or "Yanny"?
That's not a question any of us would have imagined having to answer before. Thanks to a viral tweet, though, a computerized voice that's uttering one name or another is dividing the internet in a way we haven't seen since "The Dress."
Have you tried it yet? Here you go! (This might just rip your entire life apart.) (Sorry.)
What do you hear?! Yanny or Laurel https://t.co/jvHhCbMc8I— Cloe Feldman (@Cloe Feldman) 1526351971
What did you hear? If you're like me, you heard "Yanny" all the way.
I only hear Yanni ;) hahaha https://t.co/WrMMVvl8iX— Yanni (@Yanni) 1526421349
If you're like my husband and the other half of the internet (including Twitter icon Chrissy Teigen), then you heard "Laurel," and you're not going to let anyone tell you any different.
it's so clearly laurel. I can't even figure out how one would hear yanny.— chrissy teigen (@chrissy teigen) 1526425760
So what’s really going on here?
No one truly knows. It seems that no one really knows where this audio clip even came from. Could it be aliens communicating from the depth of space? Could it be Russian bots? I can't answer that. But I can provide a few theories that might help explain why people are hearing things differently.
According to The New York Times, which enlisted the help of several experts, it could have a lot to do with which part of the "frequency range" people give attention to. So if someone tends to hear in the higher range of things, then they're going to hear "Yanny" rather than "Laurel."
Okay, you're not crazy. If you can hear high freqs, you probably hear "yanny", but you *might* hear "laurel". If yo… https://t.co/WwIOxObSH2— Dylan Bennett (@Dylan Bennett) 1526434013
Check out what happens when you manipulate the bass. Can you hear both words? (Or is this just fueling outrage?)
Ok, so if you pitch-shift it you can hear different things: down 30%: https://t.co/F5WCUZQJlq down 20%:… https://t.co/dY0YZryPMB— Steve Pomeroy and 🤖 others (@Steve Pomeroy and 🤖 others) 1526410179
@CloeCouture you can hear both when you adjust the bass levels: https://t.co/22boppUJS1— Earth Vessel Quotes (@Earth Vessel Quotes) 1526393056
And that's before you even get into the linguistic explanations or the fact that everyone's brain processes things differently.
We think we all hear the same things, but as University of Chicago psychologist Howard Nusbaum told Gizmodo, "If I cut your ears off and put someone else's on your head, sounds would sound different." (Of course, this is not an invitation to do such an experiment. I will be very mad if my name comes up in legal proceedings.)
What people hear could also have a lot to do with how they perceive the world.
Here's the thing about brains: They're really good at making snap judgments. That's because brains like to organize and categorize. A study of how people perceived "The Dress" (a study on this! what a time to be alive!) found that even when outside factors were manipulated, once people saw the dress as either blue/black or white/gold, that's the only way they would see it — even when the image was placed in different settings.
One thing's for certain: Regardless of what people hear, both "Yanny" and "Laurel" appear to be on the recording. And if someone distinctly hears just one from the start, a sound and audio engineer told Gizmodo, it's possible they'll stick with that word to the exclusion of the other.
What does that mean?
When someone hears something differently from you, do you wonder why they're hearing what you're not or do you immediately assume they're wrong? It's likely the latter. That's because people make such judgments every day. And why shouldn't we? In the best cases — for instance, when someone decides whether it's safe to jay-walk — those judgments keep people safe.
But we often don't go back and correct snap judgments. And because we focus on information that confirms the beliefs we already hold (that's backed up by research too), we never actually have to. That leads to problems like not expanding our worldviews or allowing ourselves to take in new information. In fact, research has found that once we form opinions, it's incredibly difficult for us to change them — even (and especially) after real facts have been presented.
So before you send your friends a text asking which word they hear (and you absolutely must because why should my marriage be the only one to be torn apart?), consider that they're not wrong either way. And, as Gizmodo points out, "If you listen enough, you might begin to hear things the other way too."