The Science Behind The Yanny Vs Laurel Debate

If you were a person who used the internet back in 2015, then you probably remember the famous dress, which was viewed by some as blue and black, and others as white and gold. In the end, it was discovered that the dress was, in fact, blue and black. However, some people were tricked through photo processing into genuinely believing they saw white and gold.

It’s no surprise then that 2018 has brought an equally divisive piece of media for us to debate, only this time, instead of arguing over the colors of a picture, we’re stuck battling our eardrums. Within only a couple of days, it seems everyone on social media has gotten into a heated debte over whether or not a short sound bite is saying “Yanny” or “Laurel.” The truth is a little bit of both.

The “illusion” is really less of an illusion and more of an ambiguous piece of sound. According to experts in auditory neuroscience, both words are present in the sound clip. Which word you hear all depends on what your brain actually does with the input. It all comes down to frequency.

If your ears or your speakers (or a combination of the two) amplify lower frequencies, then you’re more likely to hear “Laurel,” but if you’re more inclined to picking up on higher frequencies, you’re more likely to hear “Yanny.” Another factor that determines what you hear also has to do with what you’re expecting to discern when the clip is played.

There’s another element to the clip that has helped add to the confusion. The sound clip itself isn’t clean, meaning it also includes a lot of background noise. That causes our ears to have to work a little bit harder in order to pick out the relevant frequencies, while also filling in the gaps to make up the rest.