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M-A Divided Over “Yanny vs. Laurel” Sound Clip

The short audio clip went viral on Reddit, then Twitter, and now all forms of social media. In the clip, listeners hear the pronunciation of one word. Despite its deceptive simplicity, the clip is dividing families, friends, and communities. Some listeners hear the word “Yanny”, while others hear the word “Laurel.”

Neurologists such as Nina Kraus explain that the clip is ambiguous in part due to its low quality of audio. The original reddit user who created the clip took a video recording of the word “Laurel” being played from a vocabulary website. However, the reddit user took the recording with his cell phone, making the video very low quality, leading to ambiguity.

When confronted with ambiguity, the brain attempts to fill in the gaps by identifying patterns. The words Laurel and Yanny follow a similar vocal shape and pattern, yet differ mainly in their frequency. Brad Story, a speech professor at Arizona University, recorded himself saying both words and compared.

His experiment revealed that listeners who have a greater tendency towards high frequencies are more likely to hear the word “Yanny.” while listeners with a tendency towards lower frequencies are more likely to hear “Laurel.”

Some thought this dress was blue and black, others saw white and gold.

The debate over Laurel vs. Yanny is very similar to the debate over a picture of a dress that went viral a few years ago for the same reason. Some people thought the dress looked white and gold, while others saw black and blue. In both cases ambiguity about color or sound causes our brains to attempt to fill in gaps, and leads to a divide in perspectives.

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