Laurel or Yanny: Why You're Right

May 28, 2018

The whole internet is intrigued by this audio illusion and chances are, you are too. If you're like most people, you hear either "Laurel" or "Yanny" and can't imagine how anyone could hear it otherwise. We wanted to break it down for you and explain exactly what's happening.

 

For those unfamiliar with this topic, there is a sound byte floating around the internet with a recording of someone saying what to some people sounds like the name "Laurel" and to others sounds like "Yanny". Countless polls and debates have sparked because of it, so we're going to put it to rest.

To begin, the audio clip is ambiguous. In fact, if one were to look at the sound waves of the audio clip, they would look quite different from the waves created by someone saying "Laurel" or "Yanny". This is what allows our brains to choose what it hears, and why so many people hear it differently.

 

Our brains rely heavily on visual input, so when audio stimulus is ambiguous, our minds turn to what we can see. Most people can change which name they are hearing in the clip by simply looking at the other name. And because creating a mental visual image in our heads activates the same areas of our brain as actually seeing something, if we simply think of either name, it can change which name we hear.

 

This is called the McGurke Effect, and it has been studied for years by psychologists. Essentially, it is so uncommon to have visual and audio stimuli that don't match, that our brains just assume that what we see always reflects what we hear. So when it doesn't match, our brains choose to rely on the visual stimulus. Try this out by watching this video! As the audio plays and repeats, think of the words "Brainstorm" or the words "Green needle", and that's what you'll hear!

Bringing it back to Laurel and Yanny, no one's hearing it wrong! Your brain has chosen to interpret this ambiguous stimulus the way you have, and if your friend or colleague hears it a different way, it just means their brain has taken a different short cut to interpreting the world differently.

 

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