The Wider Implications of the Laurel/Yanny Debate That You Didn’t Know About

The latest social media phenomenon casting huge debate over all our lives is the audible sister of the blue/gold dress of 2015.


Yes, it’s the audio clip from a vocabulary website which some hear as “Laurel” and some hear as “Yanny”. (Supposedly, the original recording was in fact, Laurel).

What is so interesting is the difference between these two sounds – they are nothing alike! Just the same as blue and gold are opposites. So why do people hear different things?

Well, the answer has to do with respective frequencies. The frequencies we hear before the recording and those that we expect to hear effect which word we actually hear. A study showed that moderating the frequencies of a series of numbers read out before the Laurel/Yanny clip determined what was heard.

When the number was moderated to be higher frequency, more people heard Yanny. With lower frequencies, more people heard Laurel. This indicates that we are primed by previous information entering the echoic (auditory) memory system.

However, attenuating the higher frequencies also produced more Yanny responses, since the listener’s become more sensitive to higher frequency sounds. This is linked to the precursor effect. As Hans Bosker from Psychology Today writes,

“When the lead-in precursor has the higher frequencies attenuated, this makes the higher frequencies in the Laurel/Yanny continuum stand out more, leading to slightly more Yanny responses in the low-pass condition. Similarly, when the lead-in precursor has the lower frequencies attenuated, this makes the lower frequencies in the Laurel/Yanny continuum stand out more, leading to more Laurel responses in the high-pass condition.”

You can even form a continuum by moderating frequencies with the original recording. At the high-frequency end, you will hear Yanny, at the low-frequency end you will hear Laurel.

This may all seem rather trivial though – it’s just a word people hear differently.

However, the viral phenomenon has wider implications than we might think. It brings to the attention of the public what many psychologists have studied for years.

What it shows is that the human being is so easily influenced by prior sensory impressions, personal and social expectations and what they want to know, think or hear.

We are subject to a host subconscious biases and primers, many of which are well outside the control of the rational self. We are fundamentally, irrational beings.

In a modern society where thousands of people, businesses and the media compete for our attention, we are more affected by subconscious priming than we realise. Our political, religious and social views are often a reflection of our physical and virtual environment.

The notion of truly forming one’s own opinion about anything now seems unrealistic. But we can limit the influences that various sources of priming and bias have on us.

So, what I encourage you to do is to detach yourself from social media, from what your grandparents say, from what your friends say and from what the government and large corporations want you to hear. Formulate your own opinion about a social issue – it can be anything. When you step back from the modern chaos presented to us through the media, you may see a different perspective.

I am not saying that you have to disagree with all of these sources. Sometimes there may not even be a right or wrong answer. But whatever the issue is, formulate YOUR own opinion; don’t just regurgitate what someone else said.

Let us know how you get on. Remember to like, comment and share!



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