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Science behind the Laurel vs. Yanny debate

Shanna Grove/WZZM-TV • May 17, 2018 at 2:00 PM

GRAND RAPIDS — If you’ve been on social media, you’ve probably seen the Yanny vs. Laurel audio file that’s dividing the internet.

It's basically the audio equivalent of “The Dress” photo that went viral a few years ago — people either thought it was white and gold or blue and black.

So now we ask — what do you hear, Laurel or Yanny?

Peggy Goetz, a speech pathology and audiology professor at Calvin College, has the reasoning we’ve all been waiting for.

“It's partly because of different frequencies in the audio file," she said. "But then your own individual kind of way that you perceive the sound also affects that.”

People hear different parts.

“Usually, the people who hear Yanny, I think they hear it higher, kind of a higher pitched," Goetz said. "And Laurel, I hear Laurel, and that sounds like a very low kind of deep voice.”

It has elements of both words.

“It is synthesized speech and the output is a little ambiguous," Goetz said. "There are things called resonances and they are basically like frequencies."

People hear different words because the audio file has more than the usual number of frequencies.

“Where there's normally three, it has maybe four or five patterns," Goetz said. "And your ear basically focuses in on some of those patterns. It is going to interpret three of them, and it can kind of pick which ones it decides to hear.”

Goetz also says if people listen on different devices they can hear different pitches and notice different sounds.

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