“Yanny” Versus “Laurel”: When Your “Reality” is Open to Interpretation

It’s the return of the great “What color is this dress?” controversy of 2015, but in audio form. Before proceeding any further, here’s the Tweet that started it all:

By the time I had heard “Laurel” I immediately began researching the reasons for the differences of opinion. Some had said age matters, or what kind of speakers you are listening with, or if you have some kind of hearing loss, but I had a chance to immediately put this to the test.

I asked my 6-year-old nephew, careful not to predispose him to any preconceptions — he immediately said “Yanny.” This made sense to me, as I’ve read that most people lose the ability to hear very high-frequency tones (above 15 to 16 kHz) in their early 20s (I am older than that), so I attributed the difference to that. Dylan Bennett has a great Tweet about this:

At this point, I thought I had it all figured out, until I asked my 70-year-old mother what she heard. She said “Yanny” — which took me by surprise. (Over the last several years, she has developed some age-related hearing loss.) I discovered with further research, it depends on whether you’re paying more attention to the lower, or higher, frequencies of sound. The New York Times has a great tool that allows you to adjust the frequency — to see this in action. Remove the higher frequencies and “Laurel” is more pronounced, but when you accentuate the higher frequencies “Yanny” emerges. (It’s also cool to see where your shift-point from Laurel to Yanny is (or Yanny to Laurel if you’re one of those folks) — for me, it’s two from the Yanny end of the slider.)

Having discovered this with some defiant #Yanny tweets making the rounds earlier today, it’s a great reminder that your “reality” can often be open to interpretation. To close this great, still raging, debate, I would concede the last word to the original “Yanni”:

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