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Laurel or Yanny: the sound clip that broke the Internet

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Laurel or Yanny: the sound clip that broke the Internet

FAMILIAR FREQUENCIES: This spectrogram analysis of a man saying “Yanny” and “Laurel” shows the inherent similarities of the frequencies in both names.

FAMILIAR FREQUENCIES: This spectrogram analysis of a man saying “Yanny” and “Laurel” shows the inherent similarities of the frequencies in both names.

Thiago Andrade

FAMILIAR FREQUENCIES: This spectrogram analysis of a man saying “Yanny” and “Laurel” shows the inherent similarities of the frequencies in both names.

Thiago Andrade

Thiago Andrade

FAMILIAR FREQUENCIES: This spectrogram analysis of a man saying “Yanny” and “Laurel” shows the inherent similarities of the frequencies in both names.

Thiago Andrade, Staff Writer

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A 15-year old sophomore from a school near Atlanta, Georgia posted a clip of distorted audio to her Instagram story on May 11, 2018. Along with that was a poll asking the listeners if they heard the name “Laurel” or “Yanny.”

The next day, a friend of hers posted the clip to Reddit where it exploded in popularity and launched the internet into a debate on whether it said “Laurel” or “Yanny.”

When asked in a Twitter poll, 53 percent of voters claimed to hear “Laurel,” while the remaining 47 percent reported hearing “Yanny.”

Freshman Nick White says, “It’s Yanny. It’s definitely Yanny. There’s not even any lick of an ‘L’ sound in the clip.”

The scientific explanation behind the illusion is said to involve the frequencies that people can hear. “Yanny” has many high frequency tones in it, whereas “Laurel” has many lower frequency tones.

People who hear “Laurel” miss the higher frequency tones that are present, leaving the lower tones that make up “Laurel” to be heard. This explains why when people hear “Laurel,” it is heard as a man and “Yanny” is heard as a more ambiguous voice.

As for people who hear both “Yanny” and “Laurel,” there are no concrete theories that explain the phenomenon. Twitter user @xxv has developed a small tool to help people hear “Laurel” or “Yanny.”

“I hear ‘Laurel’ and ‘Yanny;’ usually I hear ‘Laurel,’ but I can make myself hear ‘Yanny.’ And when I found a ‘Laurel’ or ‘Yanny’ game, I downloaded it right away,” said freshman John Bruno.

There are a few factors that can contribute to which name a person hears, the most important being the ears of the listener. As we age, our ears begin to lose the ability to hear high frequencies. This hearing loss can be caused by straining the ears, usually from listening to loud sounds for too long.

Since strained ears cannot hear the higher frequencies because of the hearing loss, one is likely to hear “Laurel.”

Another possible factor as to which name you hear is the speaker you are listening from. Lower quality speakers might not be able to replicate the high frequencies needed to hear “Yanny,” getting people that normally hear “Yanny” to hear “Laurel.”

This debate has reminded many of the debate over the color of “The Dress” in February 2015. This visual illusion consisted of an image of a dress that appeared to be black and blue to some, and white and gold to others.

On May 16, 2018, a new Internet illusion has popped up since “Laurel” or “Yanny” that is even more difficult to explain. This clip of a “Ben 10” toy programmed to say “Brainstorm” has been heard as “green needle” by some, and both “Brainstorm” or “green needle” by others, depending on what word they are thinking of.

There has also been another visual illusion that has taken a form similar to that of “The Dress.” An image of a shoe that was taken with flash and then darkened has gone viral with some seeing the shoe as teal and gray, and others seeing it as the pink and white that it actually is.

This manner of illusion is quite similar to “The Dress:” the lighting of the photo makes the color of the shoe ambiguous and up for interpretation by the brain. There are also many other kinds of visual and auditory illusions.

A notable example is an illusion where what someone sees determines how they hear a sound. The illusion includes an ambiguous sound, but when paired with video of someone saying “ba,” the listener will hear “ba.” When paired with video of a person saying “ga,” the listener will hear “ga.”

This illusion, called the McGurk effect, takes advantage of the brain’s ability to use visual cues to help determine what it hears. This phenomenon, called priming, happens in the “Laurel” or “Yanny” illusion as well. Without knowing that the sound says either “Yanny” or “Laurel,” it is likely that the listener would have heard complete gibberish.

There are tons of other examples of auditory and visual tricks that have been discovered. The Shepard-Risset glissando is a clip of audio that descends in pitch seemingly forever, and Risset’s rhythmic effect depicts a forever accelerating beat (warning: the sound is a bit loud).

These illusions are all extremely fascinating testaments to the sense of the human body and just how complex they can be.

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About the Contributor
Thiago Andrade, Staff Writer

Thiago Andrade is a freshman at Monroe Townships High School. He enjoys technology and aviation, and hopes to purse a career as a pilot someday. In his...

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Laurel or Yanny: the sound clip that broke the Internet