First, it was the color of a dress, now it's the word being said on an audio clip. A post on Reddit that has gone viral has divided the netizens over what they hear from the clip. Is it "Yanny" or "Laurel"?
How can people hear one sound in two different ways?
Yanny Or Laurel?
The four-second audio clip of a voice repeating the same name several times was posted on Reddit on May 13. People who have listened to the clip say that they hear either the name Yanny or the name Laurel.
David Alais of the University of Sydney School of Psychology told the Guardian that this clip is an example of perceptually ambiguous stimulus. He compares the Yanny/Laurel clip to the face/vase illusion. Alais says that the brain can flip back and forth between both sounds because it can find a definitive interpretation of the clip.
Douglas Beck, an audiologist at Oticon, told National Geographic that there is a difference between hearing and listening. Beck says that while people think hearing occurs in the ear, both hearing and listening actually occur in the brain. He adds that hearing is passive whereas listening is when people try to interpret what they have heard.
Social Media Experiments
Since the posting of the audio, people have been trying to search for answers online. Various people on social media have taken to doing their own experiments in order to understand how people have heard different things. The majority of the experiments change the pitch of the sound clip, which does affect which word can be heard.
YouTube channel Nerd It Up was convinced that the sound was Laurel, until he changed the pitch of the clip. He was able to make it say both Laurel and Yanny in the clip but he did have to change the pitch to accomplish this feat.
On Twitter, Steve Pomeroy was able to accomplish the same thing by changing the pitch. He posted several different results of the experiment by showing the percentage of how much he had to change the pitch in order to make the clip sound differently.
Ok, so if you pitch-shift it you can hear different things: down 30%: https://t.co/F5WCUZQJlq down 20%: https://t.co/CLhY5tvnC1 up 20%: https://t.co/zAc7HomuCS up 30% https://t.co/JdNUILOvFW up 40% https://t.co/8VTkjXo3L1 https://t.co/suSw6AmLtn — Steve Pomeroy (@xxv) May 15, 2018
A Definitive Answer
It turns out that there is a definitive answer to which word the clip is saying. Buzzfeed did some digging and was able to find out from the original poster that the clip is saying the word Laurel, not Yanny.