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.
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