What "Laurel" Versus "Yanny" Says About Your Hearing


“Laurel” versus “Yanny” went viral this week and has stirred a national debate about why people hear a computer-generated voice differently. If you haven’t heard the audio clip, some people hear the word “Laurel” while others hear “Yanny.” The clip is timely because May just happens to be “Better Hearing and Speech Month.” So, let’s dig into why people hear different things.

Palomar Health Chief Audiologist Dr. David Illich says there are many factors contributing to the Laurel versus Yanny phenomena. First, he says the spectral information of the two words is quite similar, although Laurel is recorded at a lower frequency than Yanny. Both words are actually recorded over the top of each other.

You are more likely to hear the word “Yanny” if playing the recording through speakers or headphones tuned to pick up higher frequencies, and are more likely to hear “Laurel” if playing the recording through devices tuned to lower frequencies.

But what is happening when two people hear the same recording through the same device and hear two different things?

“Some people are able to hear higher frequencies than others,” Dr. Illich says. “Age can reduce this ability as our frequency range narrows as we get older.

“It can also be due to damage. We’re actually finding more young people with hearing impairment due to listening to loud music on earbuds for long periods of time.”

The Journal of Pediatrics says 12.5 percent of youth ages 6 to 19 have permanent hearing loss.

So what can the Laurel versus Yanny debate tell us? You may need to get your ears checked. It’s also an opportunity to learn how you can save whatever hearing you have. A simple step is to follow the 60-60 rule.

“Never listen to earphones for more than 60 minutes at a time and never at more than 60 percent of the maximum device volume,” Dr. Illich says.

You should also consider investing in quality headphones, not earbuds which deliver music directly to the ear canal without any buffer.

Lastly, use this fun debate to get your hearing checked by an audiologist who can tell you if you’re not hearing “Yanny” because of hearing loss.

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