Yanny vs. Laurel - Auditory Perception

Yanny vs. Laurel - Auditory Perception

May 17, 20182 min read

Once again the internet is divided, it’s Yanny vs. Laurel and people just can’t decide.

Dr. Matt Weeg, Associate Professor of Biology and Director of the Center of Excellence for Teaching and Learning at Southern Utah University, has three explanations on why people hear different names:

First, Dr. Weeg explains that sounds are made up of different frequencies, in the Yanny vs. Laurel audio, Laurel contains more low frequencies and Yanny contains more highs.

“People are more likely to hear Laurel if they are tuned into low frequencies and Yanny if they are listening to the highs. This is also influenced by the speakers being used and the age of the listener. People get worse at hearing high frequencies as they get older. It would be interesting to see if older people are more likely to hear Laurel.”

Second, the audio file is not very "clean,” there is distortion in the frequency content that we use to decide which words are being said.

“I imagine the high frequency content that causes the perception of Yanny is exaggerated in the audio file compared to the original source. The distortion makes things ambiguous, and when there is ambiguity in sensory input, our brains compensate by filling in the missing information with what we might expect based on our previous experience."

“Individual's experiences are different, so each individual's brain does this a bit differently, leading to the production of different sensory perceptions. If a person's brain fills in the ambiguous information one way, they will hear Laurel. If it fills in the ambiguity differently, they will hear Yanny.”

Dr. Weeg also notes that the brain is very good at focusing on certain stimuli and ignoring others.

“In the auditory system, this is referred to as the ‘cocktail effect,’ so named because of our ability to selectively focus on a single conversation in a room full of people. I notice that when I start the audio, I can hear both Laurel and Yanny. But when I focus on one or the other, then that is all I hear. I can force myself to switch back and forth if I concentrate, but it is difficult. I'm guessing that once the brain decides on whether it is hearing Yanny or Laurel, the cocktail effect takes hold and focuses attention on that word. This also then builds an expectation, making it even more likely that the brain will decide that it is hearing the same thing it just heard.

Dr. Weeg is familiar with the media and available for an interview. Simply visit his profile.


Connect with:
  • Matt Weeg
    Matt Weeg Associate Professor of Biology

    Specializing in neuroethology, brain behavior, and neuroscience

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