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Earlier this week, the Internet blew up when an ambiguous audio clip from Roland Szabo of Lawrenceville, GA was posted to Reddit (Salam & Victor, 2018).

 

 

Some people hear yanny, others hear laurel, and others hear something a little in between, like geary. And a lot of people sometimes hear one and sometimes hear the other.

 

If it feels like The Dress all over again, you are on the mark. (Side note. I have an image of the The Dress in my course materials that students can access before class. A student who had never seen the image scrolled through these materials and saw a gold/white dress. A few hours later when he came back into those materials he saw it as blue/black. He said, “It completely freaked me out!”)

 

Just as the colors in The Dress are ambiguous – the blue/white band is neither blue nor white, but in between – the pitches in the Yanny/Laurel clip are ambiguous; more accurately, both high and low pitches are present. The colors you see in the dress depend on the assumptions your brain is making about the color. The word you hear in the Yanny/Laurel clip depends on what your brain does with those pitches.

 

If you’re more tuned into the higher pitch, you hear yanny. If you’re more tuned into the lower pitch, you hear laurel. The New York Times has created a tool that will let you hear both (Katz, Corum, & Huang, 2018). If you find the sweet spot, the words may alternate for you.

 

When your students ask about this next term, that’s the simple answer.

 

But your more astute students will ask, “But what makes one more tuned into a higher or a lower pitch?” That’s a harder question to answer. 

 

While we’re not entirely sure what those factors are just yet, here are some possibilities (Morris, 2018).

  • Degree and type of hearing loss – if you’ve lost hearing for high-pitched sounds, you’ll be more likely to hear laurel.
  • Perceptual set – what word you’re expecting can influence what word you hear. Using the New York Times tool, start in the middle, and slide in the direction of the word you are not hearing. (I hear yanny at the middle, so I slide toward laurel.) Note where the word changes. Now start the slider on the far end for that word (the laurel end) and slide back toward the middle and note where the word changes. You’ll probably need to go beyond where the word changed for you the first time to get it to change back again.
  • Speaker quality – if your speakers or headphones emit more treble than bass, you are more likely to hear yanny.

 

I know that the sensation and perception researchers are on this and will have some more information for us before fall term starts.

 

#TeamYanny

 

References

 

Katz, J., Corum, J., & Huang, J. (2018). We made a tool so you can hear both yanny and laurel. Retrieved May 17, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/05/16/upshot/audio-clip-yanny-laurel-debate.html 

 

Morris, A. (2018). Hearing both yanny and laurel? Retrieved May 17, 2018, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/andreamorris/2018/05/16/hearing-both-yanny-and-laurel/#4d3c524d1635 

 

Salam, M., & Victor, D. (2018). Laurel or yanny? What we heard from the experts. Retrieved May 17, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/15/science/yanny-laurel.html 

Gratitude works. A genuinely positive and repeated observation of positive psychology is that keeping a gratitude journal (literally counting one’s blessings), or writing a gratitude letter, benefits the giver as well as the receiver. For the gratitude recipient, there is joy and a warmed heart. For the gratitude giver, the frequent result—as shown in studies by Robert Emmons, Michael McCullough, Martin Seligman, and others—is increased physical and psychological well-being and prosociality.

 

Having appreciated and reported on this lesson, I couldn’t resist sharing with my friends Emmons, McCullough, and Seligman (and with you, my readers) a little case example of how right they are.

 

A representative of the University of Iowa (my PhD alma mater) recently dropped by to share information on their campaign to fund a new psychology building. In response, Carol Myers (my wife) and I agreed that our family foundation might support this endeavor.  I initially proposed a certain amount; Carol, reminding me how much I owed them, suggested doubling that amount.

 

I concurred, and the next day, while writing our letter of response, I spontaneously explained our gratitude to the Iowa psychology department for

  • inviting me (an undergraduate chemistry major with little psychology background) to enter its PhD program,
  • supporting my graduate work (including nominating me for an NSF fellowship, which supported me after the first year),
  • introducing me to a research program that—quite to my surprise—turned me into a researcher (enabling NSF grants for my work here at Hope College, and which ultimately led to invitations to communicate psychological science through textbooks and other media).

 

Writing those words had an unexpected effect—it caused me to feel my gratitude more deeply, with a flush of positive emotion—whereupon I suggested to Carol (and she immediately agreed) that we redouble the doubled gift amount. (Only later did I realize how my writing a “gratitude letter” had affected me.)

 

I can hear my gratitude-intervention scholar-friends say, “Of course, gratitude expressions boost good feelings and prosociality.” Gratitude, “the queen of the virtues,” says Emmons, “heals, energizes, and transforms lives in a myriad of ways consistent with the notion that virtue is both its own reward and produces other rewards.” Gratitude works.