Three years ago, a dress caused arguments across the internet over the question of whether it was black and blue or gold and white. And now, its audio equivalent has arrived.
The “Laurel and Yanny” argument has divided internet users, as many hear different things. TNS
On May 13, an 18-year-old US student posted an audio clip on US social networking platform Twitter in which a man is saying a word. The word he says is “Laurel”. But strangely, as many as 47 percent of Twitter users said they heard the word “Yanny”, while 53 percent voted for “Laurel”.
So, what caused the confusion?
Lars Riecke, an audio expert at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, explained to tech site The Verge: “The secret lies in the level of frequency.”
When we receive acoustic information from the outside world, the frequency of the audio affects how it sounds. So, a higher frequency makes people hear “Yanny”, while a lower one sounds like “Laurel”.
As amazing as it is, frequency could be influenced by our age. As we become middle aged, our hearing ability begins to weaken, making certain high frequencies harder to hear, meaning older people are more likely to hear “Laurel”. On the other hand, children’s ears are more sensitive to high-frequency sounds, so many of them will hear “Yanny”, the Daily Mail reported.
And the audio system playing the sound could also lead to some variations. For example, phones or speakers without good low-frequency playback capabilities will make us hear “Yanny”, and loudspeakers with good low-frequency capabilities will convey “Laurel”.
And it’s not just our ears or speakers that determine what we hear – our brains also play a role. According to Bharath Chandrasekaran, a researcher from the US, the brain always uses surrounding cues to help it make the right decision when we face ambiguities.
For example, if a girl unclearly introduced herself as “Laura”, our brain might automatically match this unclear sound with “Laurel”. However, if we heard the word “Yanny” mentioned around the same time, our brain might give an unconscious preference for this name instead.
“All of this goes to highlight just how much the brain is an active interpreter of sensory input, and that the outside world is less objective than we like to believe,” psychologist David Alais from the University of Sydney told the Guardian.