Some experts are describing the “Laurel vs. Yanny” debate as an optical illusion for our ears.
Last week, a high school student in Georgia was studying the word “laurel” for literature class. When she looked the word up on Vocabulary.com, she heard the word “yanny.” The student posted her discovery to Instagram and created the biggest internet debate since the white-and-gold or blue-and-black dress disagreement of 2015.
Listen to the clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2p4MpT-VgSo
Fortunately, the difference in what people hear from the exact same recording can be explained using the evidence-based approach to medicine, and this is the kind of work that is hallmark to Kaiser Permanente.
Shankar Sridhara, MD, Assistant Chief of Northern Virginia Head and Neck Surgery for The Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, says that while the recording is technically the word “laurel,” people who are more attuned to hearing high frequencies are more likely to perceive “yanny.”
As people age, they lose the ability to hear high frequencies and are more likely to hear “laurel” because the word operates at a lower frequency. As we age, we are less likely to hear higher frequency soundwaves.
“People who can’t hear those higher frequencies as well are more likely to hear ‘laurel,'” he said.
Dr. Sridhara also notes that bias can also play in how our brains respond to stimuli. If you are trying to hear either “laurel” or “yanny,” then you may be more likely to hear that word.
“Our brain routinely fills many gaps based on our expectation of what we should hear or see or smell or taste,” he said. “Our brain also routinely filters out certain stimuli if they are not of interest at that moment. For example, you do not hear the air conditioning in your room unless you pay attention to it.”
Because frequencies can change based on how the sound is produced, whether you listen from a laptop or desktop computer, on a smart phone or through headphones can also make a difference in what you hear.
Thuy-Anh Melvin, MD, an Otolaryngologist with The Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, recently wrote a blog about hearing loss, how to protect your hearing and some of the options available to help improve your hearing.