First, listen to the clip here.
I initially heard “Yanny” and now consistently hear “Laurel.” I thought it was a silly, viral hoax…until I heard the clip with a few friends in the room. They all heard “Yanny” and I heard “Laurel.” What makes it even more confusing is that my Google Assistant displayed what I heard from the speakers…and it doesn’t have a real brain. Try it with the buddy next to you, you might be surprised.
When shown the original unaltered audio clip, half who heard Yanny now hear Laurel and the other half still hear Yanny. After some time, those who heard Laurel now hear Yanny…what the heck is going on?
There are still some things about psychoacoustics we still don’t fully understand. In some ways, examples like this could make blind testing a bit moot. The sound that settles over time, is the sound that matters. Seems like our brains do a bit more priming to hear a certain way. Apparently, which word you hear could also depend on the headphones or speakers you’re using. Fascinating.
What you hear also seems to depend on temporal adjustments in the brain. For example, depending on how quickly you move the slider, you might hear one or the other, or both. Check out the interactive slider here.
If people are hearing different words from the same exact spectrogram (nevermind the same zero and ones), this implies a greater complexity in the human auditory system.
If it were due to age or dependent upon the sensitivities with certain frequencies…then why the inconsistencies with some listeners? The somewhat vague explanation is here.
One of the more interesting things to come out of the yanny/laurel debate was the discovery that, by changing the pitch of the recording, you could adjust what you heard. In general, people heard yanny more consistently when the pitch was lower and laurel when the pitch was higher.
When the speaker’s voice is artificially lowered, the formants sound as if they’ve been raised; if the speaker’s voice is raised, the formants sound lower. The sounds in yanny generally have higher formants and fewer dips than the sounds in laurel