Updated: May 17, 2018
Written by: Dr. Janine Mackenzie, ND
The latest internet craze has people everywhere asking “What do you hear?!”.
A computerized audio file repeats the name over and over, and people all over the internet are in full-on debate mode over what they hear. You cannot search social media without seeing Team Yanny or Team Laurel. It’s reminiscent of “The Dress”, a photo that went viral on the internet in 2015 when no one could decide if the dress was white and gold or blue and black. This little audio clip is sparking curiosity all over the internet. What do you hear? Why do you hear something different? How can people perceive one thing so differently?
So, in the name of science, we tried it. Standing side by side, listening to the clip on an iphone, I heard Yanny and Joy heard Laurel! Why did we hear such different things standing side by side, listening to the exact same audio clip?
CNN recently posted an article quoting Brad Story, a Professor of Speech, Language and Hearing at the University of Arizona. He says that the recording is “not very high quality and that in itself allows there to be some ambiguity”. In addition, he says you need to take into account the type of speaker used. We noticed this in the clinic. On Joy’s iphone all she could hear was Laurel but when played on my computer she could hear Yanny. I only heard Yanny (Team Yanny all the way!). So, what is actually going on here?
Part of the reason has to do with frequency and pitch. The frequency is the amount of back and forth a wave travels in a given time point, and pitch is sensation of hearing a frequency. A high pitch sound corresponds to a high frequency sound wave and a low pitch corresponds to a low frequency sound wave.
When we hear a sound the sound waves enter our ear, vibrates our ear drum which moves tiny tiny bones in our inner ear called the oscicles. These bones vibrate up against the cochlea which is full of fluid and tiny tiny hairs. The movement of these little hairs changes the sound wave signal from a physical vibration into a neural signal that gets transmitted through our brain for interpretation. Hairs at one end of the cochlea transfer low pitch sounds, hairs at the opposite end transfer high pitch sounds. As we age, our ability to hear the high pitch sounds is diminished due to the hair cells “wearing out” over time. Loud noises like rock concerts, jet engines, explosions, or even chronic wear such as long-term ear bud use can diminish our hearing ability. Once these hairs are no longer able to transmit sound our hearing is permanently lost and use of hearing aids may be necessary.
Check out this clip from Vancouver’s Kiss 92.5 radio station.
When they change the pitch I hear Laurel! More consistently when the pitch is lowered people hear Yanny and when the pitch is increased people hear Laurel.
Steve Pomeroy posted this on twitter. He pitch-shifted the audio by specific percentages. When do you hear the change?
How to keep your ears and hearing healthy!
Avoid chronic long-term exposure to sound… In the words of your mother, “turn that music down!” and “take those earbuds out!”
Earbuds and headphones can be very damaging to the hear because you are basically putting a tiny speaker right next to your ear and the sound waves go directly into your ear canal. Avoiding other loud experiences or doing your best to manage exposures. Wearing earplugs while working with power tools or at concerts is a good way to continue with life but with ear safety in mind. In addition, keeping kids ears away from these types of exposures with sound muffling headphones is important too. Once the hairs are lost the hearing capacity cannot regenerate.
Avoid using Q-tips or putting anything down into your ear canal. Anything that has the potential to rupture your ear drum puts your hearing at risk. Once your ear drum is perforated, you run the risk of infection. Ear infections that get down into your middle ear can cause permanent hearing loss.
Have your hearing checked regularly. Many pharmacies and Hearing Centers will offer free hearing checks. It is always good to check in once a year and see how things are progressing. Especially for children, often hearing loss can be a reason for poor behaviour in school and at home because the child is unable to hear direction properly. It is natural and normal to have some hearing loss as we age, but it can progress quickly and may require interventions like a hearing aid or implant.
Check out this cool hearing test to see how old your ears are!
And, just in case you were wondering… Brad Story says that the original recording was likely Laurel ☺