The science behind ‘Yanny’ versus ‘Laurel’

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DENVER - The “Yanny” versus “Laurel” debate is taking over social media, and probably affecting productivity for plenty of businesses.

There is an audio recording circulating and some people hear the word “Yanny” and some people hear the word “Laurel.” Now offices are exploding in funny arguments, and social media is consumed. Big name celebrities and politicians are weighing in.

But how is it even possible that two people hear two different words?

Missy Coyne, a speech language pathologist at Rose Medical Center, says there are plenty of theories. One is about which frequencies a person hears best. So if a person hears lower frequencies better, “You would hear Laurel, because that has lower frequency sounds in it.”

And here’s something really interesting. “If you raise the pitch or you lower the pitch, the same listener could hear either sound,” Coyne said.

In fact, the New York Times actually created a tool to gradually accentuate different frequencies in the original recording so that listeners can hear either word.

“They do look similar on the Spectrogram,” Coyle said.  She adds that sound can be filtered with our expectations. “So if you’re expecting to hear one word versus another, you will probably hear that word.”

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