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Yanny or Laurel? Audio 'illusion' stirs up argument online.

Summary: Internet users have come up with their own theories.

A sound 'illusion' has taken the internet by storm after it first appeared on Reddit. The short audio clip is a computer-generated voice where one word is repeated several times.

The bone of contention is the whether the word is 'Yanny' or 'Laurel', which has stirred up some serious argument online, The Guardian report states.

Explaining the audio-illusion, professor David Alais from the University of Sydney's school of psychology said the Yanny/Laurel sound is an example of a "perceptually ambiguous stimulus" such as the Necker cube or the face/vase illusion. "They can be seen in two ways, and often the mind flips back and forth between the two interpretations. This happens because the brain can't decide on a definitive interpretation," Alais said.

you can hear both when you adjust the bass levels:

- Earth Vessel Quotes (@earthvessquotes) May 15, 2018

The professor added, "If there is little ambiguity, the brain locks on to a single perceptual interpretation. Here, the Yanny/Laurel sound is meant to be ambiguous because each sound has a similar timing and energy content - so in principle it's confusable."

Giving his verdict on the sudden popular audio clip, Alais said that for him and many others it's "100% Yanny" without any ambiguity.

What do you hear?! Yanny or Laurel

- Cloe Feldman (@CloeCouture) May 15, 2018

He divided lack of ambiguity down to two reasons: firstly his age. At 52 his ears lack high frequency sensitivity, a natural result of ageing; and secondly, a difference in pronunciation between the North American accented computer-generated "Yanny" and "Laurel" and how the words would naturally be spoken in Australian or British English.

According to professor Hugh McDermott from Melbourne's Bionics Institute while the frequency of the device you are listening on does have an impact, there are "a lot of different factors playing into it".

"When the brain is uncertain of something, it uses surrounding cues to help you make the right decision," he said, adding, "If you heard a conversation happening around you regarding 'Laurel' you wouldn't have heard 'Yanny'."

Professor McDermott added that personal history can also be responsible for unconscious preference for one or another. "You could know many people named 'Laurel' and none called 'Yanny'," he said.

Adding that visual cues may influence the hearing, McDermott said, "You would have noticed it had both the names appearing on the screen with no other context or information. This forces the brain to make a choice between those two alternatives. It is a compelling illusion and you can hear both those sounds either way." However, in National Geographic, Brad Story from the University of Arizona's speech acoustics and physiology lab claimed the original recording was "Laurel" but the confusion arises as the audio clip isn't clear. Story recorded both the words in his own voice and concluded found similar sound patterns for "Yanny" and "Laurel".

While experts try to reach a conclusion, internet users have come up with their own theories. One user wrote on Reddit: "If you turn the volume very low, there will be practically no bass and you will hear Yanny. Turn the volume up and play it on some speakers that have actual bass response (AKA not your phone) and you will hear Laurel."

A video posted by another Twitter user, Alex Saad, backs this theory by showing the sound mix morphing from "Yanny" into "Laurel" while toggling through different frequencies.

what do you hear laurel or yanny? this clip breaks it down and you finally get to hear the truth

- Alex Ernst 2 (@AlexErnst2) May 16, 2018

Others have speculated that the difference may be down to the age of the listener, or individual physiology.

Both names look similar on a spectral display, but #Laurel is best heard on lower frequencies. #Yanny is being whispered, and at a higher freq. The low quality of the clip + varying speakers + similar resonance = hearing Yanny and/or Laurel. @voxdotcom

- Joshua Miller (@JoshuaDMiller) May 15, 2018

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:May 16, 2018
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