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Is it Yanny or Laurel? The Answer Really Does Matter

An audio clip goes viral – and tells us a lot about what we hear

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BY Gene Marks - 16 May 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Let me get this right out in the open: it's definitely Laurel.

That's what I hear when I listen to this four-second clip that was posted by reddit user RolandCamry. A lot of people agree with me. But it seems that an equal number of people don't hear "Laurel." They hear "Yanny." What is this madness? What do you hear?

Millions of users on reddit, Twitter and other social media sites are duking it out as I write this. Even celebrities are getting involved. Model Chrissie Tiegen says it's "clearly Laurel." Ellen DeGeneres definitely hears Laurel. But don't take their word for it - thousands, hundreds of thousands, probably millions actually think the clip is saying "Yanny."

The answer? New York Magazine editor Madison Malone Kircher probably best summed it up when she tweeted "you either die a Yanny or live long enough to see yourself become a Laurel." In other words: it depends on who's listening.

We have the good people at the Verge to thank for this conclusion. They took the time to interview a few audiology experts to shed some light on the controversy. For example, Lars Riecke, an assistant professor of audition and cognitive neuroscience at Maastricht University says it's all about frequency and the mechanics of your ears.

Older people like me are starting to lose our hearing - to the point that I find myself watching more shows with subtitles than ever before. Our capacity to hear higher frequencies are diminished. Therefore, we hear Laurel. Younger people, particularly kids, pick up higher frequencies much easier and they hear Yanny. According to the Verge piece, Riecke thinks that someone recorded the clip such that the frequencies of the Y might have been made artificially higher, and the frequencies that make the L sound might have been dropped.

So there's frequency and then there's interpretation. Another audiology expert told The Verge that our brains are working in different ways. We're thinking not of what something sounds like, but what we think it should sound like. In other words, what we hear is shaped by all of our previous experiences and our minds are filtering out what we think is important with what's not.

The takeaway: some people hear only what they want to hear. Others only hear what their brain has been trained to hear. Some of us are physically incapable of hearing certain things at all. We take in so much information through our ears. But are we really understanding what we're hearing?

Do we hear Laurel? Or Yanny?

So think about Laurel the next time you're giving a price to a customer. Or explaining to an employee how to do a job. Or telling a supplier where and when to deliver a product. Oh, and think about Yanny the next time a customer is complaining to you, an employee is telling you about a problem or a supplier is changing his terms.

They are hearing what they want to hear and so are you. We're all guilty of this. We all perceive the world through our filtered senses and translate this data according to our own experiences. The issue is whether all the people in our lives who we rely on to do their jobs are truly understanding what you're telling them - and if you're truly understanding what they're telling you.

So is it Laurel or Yanny? It's both. It's either. It's what you're hearing. It's what others who you work with are hearing. Hopefully you're not just relying on their listening skills.


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