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Yanny or Laurel? Sound ‘illusion’ sets off ear-splitting arguments | Technology

Yanny or Laurel? Sound ‘illusion’ sets off ear-splitting arguments | Technology

A short audio clip of a computer-generated voice has become the most divisive subject on the internet since the gold/blue dress controversy of 2015.

The audio “illusion”, which first appeared on Reddit, seems to be saying one word – but whether that word is “Yanny” or “Laurel” is the source of furious disagreement.

Cloe Feldman

What do you hear?! Yanny or Laurel

May 15, 2018

Professor David Alais from the University of Sydney’s school of psychology says the Yanny/Laurel sound is an example of a “perceptually ambiguous stimulus” such as the Necker cube or the face/vase illusion.

“They can be seen in two ways, and often the mind flips back and forth between the two interpretations. This happens because the brain can’t decide on a definitive interpretation,” Alais says.

“If there is little ambiguity, the brain locks on to a single perceptual interpretation. Here, the Yanny/Laurel sound is meant to be ambiguous because each sound has a similar timing and energy content – so in principle it’s confusable.

“All of this goes to highlight just how much the brain is an active interpreter of sensory input, and thus that the external world is less objective than we like to believe.”

Alais says that for him, and presumably many others, it’s “100% Yanny” without any ambiguity.

That lack of ambiguity he says is probably down to two reasons: firstly his age. At 52 his ears lack high frequency sensitivity, a natural result of ageing; and secondly, a difference in pronunciation between the North American accented computer-generated “Yanny” and “Laurel” and how the words would naturally be spoken in Australian or British English.

This argument is further supported by an assistant professor of audition and cognitive neuroscience Lars Riecke at Maastricht University. Speaking to the Verge, Riecke suggests the “secret is frequency … but some of it is also the mechanics of your ears, and what you’re expecting to hear”.

“Most sounds – including L and Y, which are among the ones at issue here – are made up of several frequencies at once … frequencies of the Y might have been made artificially higher, and the frequencies that make the L sound might have been dropped.”

In National Geographic, Brad Story from the University of Arizona’s speech acoustics and physiology lab claimed the original recording was “laurel” but because the audio clip isn’t clear it leaves room for confusion and varying interpretations.

Story has experimented by recording his own voice pronouncing both words and found similar sound patterns for “yanny” and “laurel”.

Online commentators have added their own theories as to why people are hearing different words in the clip – and pointed out it varies depending on the level of frequency, amplitude and the type of speakers used to play back the clip.

Steve Pomeroy

Ok, so if you pitch-shift it you can hear different things:

down 30%:
down 20%:
up 20%:
up 30%
up 40%

May 15, 2018

According to the Twitter user Earth Vessel Quotes, the amount of bass projected from the sound device can have a significant impact.

Earth Vessel Quotes

you can hear both when you adjust the bass levels:

May 15, 2018

Lower frequencies increase your chances of hearing the world “Laurel” while higher ones are more likely to sound like “Yanny”.

One user wrote on Reddit: “If you turn the volume very low, there will be practically no bass and you will hear Yanny. Turn the volume up and play it on some speakers that have actual bass response (AKA not your phone) and you will hear Laurel.”

A video posted by another Twitter user, Alex Saad, backs this theory by showing the sound mix morphing from “Yanny” into “Laurel” while toggling through different frequencies.

Alex Saad

Despite objective proof I still think it’s #Laurel

May 15, 2018

Others have speculated that the difference may be down to the age of the listener, or individual physiology. As you get older, your hearing range begins to deteriorate, making certain high frequencies hard or impossible to hear. This process can begin from the age of 25.

Alex Zalben

guys help me out, does this dress say yanny or laurel

May 15, 2018

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