The internet loves a good optical illusion. Because of the strange ways our conscious minds operate, two people could look at the exact same thing and see something totally different.
There are many examples, but the most (in)famous one around the internet is probably “the dress,” which still has people debating white-and-gold vs. blue-and-black.
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) February 27, 2015
The dispute over “the dress” has to do with your brain’s perception of light and color. Plenty of similar color illusions have hit the internet since then.
But the newest phenomenon doesn’t trick your eyes … it deceives your ears.
The new “dress” is actually a word. It’s just a second-long audio clip, but people hear surprisingly very different things.
Listen to the clip, and see if you’re on team “Yanny” or team “Laurel.”
What do you hear?! Yanny or Laurel pic.twitter.com/jvHhCbMc8I
— Cloe Feldman (@CloeCouture) May 15, 2018
Chances are, you probably distinctly heard one or the other … or maybe you heard “Yanny” and then came around to hearing “Laurel,” or vice versa.
i hear Yanny
— Cloe Feldman (@CloeCouture) May 15, 2018
it sounds nothing like yanny tho
— chels (@PolarizedSkies) May 16, 2018
right its weird i had my earphones in with nowt playing and played it through the speaker on my phone and heard laurel, but then i took the earphones out to hear better and i heard yanny…if that makes sense
— memesha (@misha_devi) May 16, 2018
The clip has gone viral, and the internet has some strong opinions about it.
Me after listening to the recording for 267th time and still hearing Yanny pic.twitter.com/qgQavD0IcV
— Amb (@amberchristy03) May 16, 2018
me talking about that yanny/laurel vid pic.twitter.com/C1mMVA7wXO
— Ryan Satin (@ryansatin) May 16, 2018
— Alex Stockwell (@alexrstockwell) May 15, 2018
And naturally, so did the musician Yanni:
I only hear Yanni 😉 hahaha https://t.co/WrMMVvl8iX
— Yanni (@Yanni) May 15, 2018
Like “the dress,” the Yanny/Laurel phenomenon was discovered by accident.
Wired unearthed the history of the clip, and found that the weird sensation was actually discovered by high schoolers. On May 11, Katie Hetzel, a freshman at Flowery Branch High School in Georgia was studying for a world literature class when she looked up the word “laurel” on Vocabulary.com.
Yes, the word is actually “laurel.” But when she played the voice recording of the word, she heard “Yanny” instead, and the debate that would soon dominate the internet began.
“I asked my friends in my class and we all heard mixed things,” Hetzel told Wired.
She shared the clip on her Instagram story, but it really took off when it was posted to Reddit on May 12.
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t an intentional illusion; there was no distortion or audio effect added to the clip. It is simply the recording that, according to Wired, an opera singer made for the site in 2007.
So what exactly is going on here?
The phenomenon has to do with how you perceive different frequencies.
The New York Times interviewed several experts, who gave their best guess to why people year “Yanny.”
Patricia Keating, a linguistics professor and the director of the phonetics lab at U.C.L.A., said that “it depends on what part (what frequency range) of the signal you attend to.”
Keating wasn’t sure what factors would effect which frequency signal perception, but Elliot Freeman, a perception researcher at City University of London, said it might just have to do with what you’re listening on:
“What one hears first depends on the how the sound is reproduced, e.g. on an iPhone speaker or headphones, and on an individual’s own ‘ear print’ which might determine their sensitivity to different frequencies,” he told the Times.
The New York Times made a helpful slider tool that lets you adjust the frequency levels, from “Yanny” on one end to “Laurel” on the other. It’s an interesting way of getting a better insight to the phenomenon, and lets you hear what others are hearing.
But the clip itself offers yet another fascinating insight to the wonders of human perception—or at the very least will make for a fun debate around the office.
guys help me out, does this dress say yanny or laurel pic.twitter.com/Tl2lfZKYBS
— Alex Zalben (@azalben) May 15, 2018
Take our poll below!