Anyone surfing the web over the past few weeks has likely encountered one of the hottest viral clips in recent memory, in which one is asked to listen to an audio recording of a spoken word (repeated several times) and choose between two possibilities: Laurel or Yanny. Most are amazed that there is no actual consensus over which word is spoken. Some hear “Laurel” and a seemingly equal number of folks hear “Yanny.” Since we here at Alabama Hearing Associates know a thing or two about the subjective nature of hearing, we’d like to weigh in on this debate with a few observations.
First, your ears don’t actually interpret the sound of the spoken name; that is the function of your brain. Your ears send the message to the brain, and the brain handles the actual decoding of the message. As a result, your expectations of what you are going to hear play a huge role in the brain’s interpretation of the sound that your ear has actually received. According to Dr. Alison Grimes, Director of Audiology at UCLA, “If we’re talking to someone and we expect them to say a particular word in a sentence because it’s logical, we’ll hear it with our brain even if the speaker says it unclearly or it’s noisy.” In other words, your brain will “automatically fill in the missing sound to make sense.” Furthermore, if all your friends say they hear a particular word, it’s possible you will hear the same word as well, because that word is now what you expect to hear due to peer influence. In addition, if you are named Laurel or your best friend’s name is Laurel, you are more likely to hear “Laurel” than “Yanny” because you hear the former more frequently.
Your perception also greatly depends on your audio source. Varying devices, speakers, and headphones will deliver the voice recording in a myriad of ways (with different EQ, stereo separation, volume, etc.), which can easily influence the outcome of which name you hear. If you have high fidelity speakers and they are turned up at a higher volume, you are going to perceive the word differently than if you are using cheap headphones or speakers. The quality of the audio recording is also critical. Since this is a digitized sound file, it can be manipulated in many different ways. You can put emphasis on the high frequencies to hear “Yanny,” or you can add emphasis instead on the low frequencies to hear “Laurel.” If you would like to try some audio tinkering yourself, be sure to click on the following link:
In conclusion, your perception and interpretation of this spoken name depends a great deal upon your hearing ability, your brain’s ability to pick the target word, and the fidelity of your listening device. You can hear “Laurel,” “Yanny,” or both, and you will still be correct! Here at AHA, Dr. Susan and Dr. Jan hear “Laurel,” but Megan hears “Yanny.” Which name do YOU hear?
“Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!!! In two visits you’ve brought my hearing levels close to perfect for me. Not exactly sure how, but the last session settings have me hearing the television at a near normal volume level without using the 4th ‘outdoor’ setting (which works perfectly as well). The fitting is comfortable, without any slippage of device or feedback. After nearly 4 years, I finally feel like the devices are worthwhile.”
“Dr. Jan Liles at Alabama Hearing Associates has demonstrated integrity, professional competence, patience, and a true interest in improving my ability to hear. She was candid from the beginning, acknowledging that I have a very difficult hearing loss and will never hear as I did before. She has gone the extra mile in attempting to improve my hearing, trying four different hearing aids over a period of several months, patiently listening to my observations about each one, and helping me to chose the hearing aid best suited for me. After the selection, she continues to work dilligently with me to make sure that I receive the maximum benefit from my hearing aids.”
“Progressive hearing loss has made it necessary for me to wear first one, now two hearing aids, since the mid-1980’s. During the past twenty years I have lived in various places from a small island 3,500 miles southwest of Hawaii, to New Mexico, to Colorado, and finally to Huntsville, Alabama. This has given me experience with a wide range of approaches to audiology. Dr. Susan Sheehy and Dr. Jan Liles are way ahead of others I’ve worked with. Their competence in and use of the fast-evolving hearing aid technology gives them a broad range of options to chose from. This competence backs up their determination to find the best hearing solution for each patient.”
“The audiologists at Alabama Hearing Associates are the most caring and helpful people I have had the privilege of knowing. From the very first day that I stepped into their office, their only concern was to help me. They wanted to be sure that the hearing aids I purchased were the right ones for me and that I would be happy with them. Unlike the previous company I purchased hearing aids from (which I can’t wear because they were not right for me), they did not try to sell me the most expensive aids. Their only concern was for me and my satisfaction with the hearing aids.”
“For the past 10 years I have had progressive hearing loss, and have worked with audiologists in Birmingham and Huntsville without success. Then Dr. Jan Liles came into my life and it all changed. She is knowledgeable, professional, caring, and compassionate. Dr. Liles immediately identified my needs and took time to make me a vital part of all decisions regarding the hearing aids that best suited my hearing loss. Dr. Liles has given me the ability to hear and understand what my grandchildren are saying and that is a very special gift! I am indebted to Dr. Liles and Dr. Sheehy for having the foresight to see the need in our community for their professional services.”
“I have worn hearing aids since I was nine years old. Until I met Jan and Susan at Alabama Hearing Associates, I had never dealt with such professional, caring, patient, and compassionate people. They have really helped me and I will be forever grateful to them!”
“I am extremely happy with the care I have received at Alabama Hearing Associates. I was impressed from the very beginning with the ability of Dr. Liles and Dr. Sheehy to be very professional and yet still relate to me on a personal level. I immediately felt comfortable and confident that I had chosen the right people to meet my hearing needs”