So, Is It Actually ‘Yanny’ Or ‘Laurel’? Experts Explain The Phenomenon And What Is Actually Being Said
This wild debate that is essentially the 2018 version of the gold/blue dress fiasco of 2015. If you've somehow managed to avoid this since it picked up earlier this week, there is a low-quality audio file of a computerized voice saying something. Some people think it says "Laurel", while others think it says "Yanny" (hear it for yourself here). Some people are actually saying they've heard both, and I can attest that I am one of those people.
Much has been made of which answer it is, while others are left wondering how this can be. A professor at the University of Arizona says he has an explanation of both.
Brad Story, professor of speech, language, and hearing sciences at the University of Arizona, broke it down for Popular Science; explaining the phenomenon and what he thinks is actually being said.
Story says the low quality of the audio leads to a lot of ambiguity in what people hear. When listening to the clip, most people will say they clearly hear one thing, and can't understand how anyone could hear anything else. Some people, however (me included) have reported hearing different things depending on how/where you listen to the clip.
Story analyzed the audio clip's waveform (the visualization of audio) to figure out what is actually being said, and explains that the first part of the waveform has features that resemble "L" and "R" sounds. He also recorded himself saying both "Laurel" and "Yanny", and the "Laurel" waveform matched up most closely with that of the audio clip circling the web.
Other scientists agreed with Story's conclusion, agreeing that the waveform resembles that of the word "Laurel". Britt Yazel, another one of the scientists Popular Science spoke with, explains that there are some overlaid frequencies that might be leading some people to hear "Yanny", instead of "Laurel". These overlaid frequencies and/or the ambiguity from the low quality of the audio are likely the primary reason for the confusion among those in the debate, but a tendency for people to "hear what they want to hear" might also be a factor.
Researcher Nina Kraus offered a more scientific example to Popular Science of how interpretation of what you hear can be different for different people and can be altered. Among many examples she offers as part of her research, she has a pair of sound clips that say the same thing. One of them initially sounds to most people like there is nothing more than static, but after hearing a "cleaner" version, when you listen to the original, you can suddenly hear speech. She explains this is due to our brains "filtering" what we hear based on previous experience. Being we all have different experience, we might have a tendency to "filter" this ambiguous message in a way that sounds different than other people. Kraus also uses this same science to explain how people can hear actual words in orca whale sounds.
So, there you go. Debate seemingly solved. It's still weird though, isn't it?