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Recently, there was the social media debate about Laurel or Yanny. Much like the blue and black dress controversy several years ago, it sparked discussion as to which sound was heard, “yanny” or “laurel.” And in case you are wondering, the original sound is…laurel.

There are several theories as to why we hear one or the other. The first theory as to why we hear “yanny” or “laurel” is that we may each hear different words because the of the way sound is filtered and amplified through speakers or headphones. Filtering of the original sound “laurel” through high quality speakers versus low quality speakers alters the frequencies we each use to perceive sound and makes the two sounds seem even more similar.

Secondly, your hearing acuity may additionally play a role in how you perceive the sound due to your ability to hear high frequencies.  Some argue if you have better high frequency hearing you may always hear “yanny.”

Thirdly, when you “see” a sound versus “hear” the sound, it makes understanding that sound more difficult. Yanny and Laurel are actually quite similar in speech energies, which contributes to the confusing nature of the sounds. For example, think of yourself in a noisy place trying to understand what your friend is saying from across the table. In that situation, your brain is forced to make quick decisions about what it “thinks” it hears and what it sees on the mouth. Think of it like a case of the “NFL Bad Lip Reading,”you may “see” one thing, and he was saying something completely different.

All of these theories likely contribute to your overall perception of “laurel” or “yanny,” but most agree the quality of the speakers you are using is the overwhelming factor in your perception.

If you or someone you know is concerned about hearing or balance difficulties, or ringing in the ears, UofL Physicians – Audiology can help. We are located in the UofL Physicians Outpatient Center at 401 E. Chestnut Street, Suite 170. Our office number is 502-588-0760.

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Casey Rutledge Roof, Au.D.

Dr. Casey Rutledge Roof received her bachelor's is communication disorders and subsequent doctorate in audiology from Auburn University in 2010. She holds interests in several areas of audiology to include diagnostic hearing tests, partnership with Otorhinolargnology (Ear, Nose, and Throat), hearing device selection and fittings, vestibular diagnostic and treatments, cochlear implants, and osseointegrated hearing devices. She holds her certificate of Clinical Competency from the American Speech Hearing Association and her fellow from the American Academy of Audiology. She serves as clinical faculty for audiology graduate students for the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Audiology Division.

All posts by Casey Rutledge Roof, Au.D.
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