Why Do You Hear Differently Than the People Around You?

Laurel or Yanny? Why do you hear differently?

Recently a phenomenon arose on whether listeners hear Laurel or Yanny. This event is similar to the blue/black and white/gold dress incident. Where some saw the dress as one set of colors while others saw the dress as the other. Related to the dress, some individuals hear Laurel while others hear Yanny. For others, it changes between the two each time they hear it. Give yourself a try, what do you hear? Test yourself with this link from CNN:


Now, ask someone else what they hear. Were the results the same or different? Try raising and lowering the volume. Did the outcome change? Now, look at this link from the New York Times. They have a made a tool that allows you to move a slider so you can clearly differentiate between Laurel and Yanny:



Why do we hear the same word differently? A neurobiology professor at Northwestern University, Nina Kraus, calls the sounds “acoustically ambiguous”. “Acoustically ambiguous” in this case means that it is a very poor-quality file. This is crucial in explaining why people hear different things (Kennedy). To our understanding, each time the audio file has been posted, there is a good chance it has been tampered with in favor of Yanny or Laurel. On the other hand, the word you hear could also be based on your responsiveness to frequencies. Britt Yazel, a neuroscience doctoral student at the University of California, states that “some people have a greater sensibility to higher frequencies or lower frequencies, which could explain part of why people hear different things”. Another physiological factor that could account for is “much of what you hear, [Kraus says], is about what you’re expecting to hear” (Kennedy). For example, if most of the people around you claim they are hearing Laurel, then there is a good possibility that you will also hear Laurel. Furthermore, if you are used to hearing Laurel in your everyday life, you are more prone to accepting Laurel. In conclusion, Kraus explains that this Laurel/Yanny phenomenon is not necessarily important, but is necessary to understanding the ability of humans to process sounds. This sensation brings awareness to linguistics, neurologists, and speech and hearing specialists by displaying how different brains process sounds differently.