A few months ago, a four-second internet audio clip went viral, generating a difference of opinion that rivaled the infamous “what color is the dress?” debate of 2015. (For the record, the dress was blue. End of argument.) This time, the question centered over whether a computerized voice was saying “Yanny” or “Laurel,” with respondents sharply divided over what they heard. If you don’t remember the clip – May was a lifetime ago in popular culture terms – or live under a rock and never heard it, go ahead and give it a listen.
Did you hear “Yanny” or “Laurel”? The question has led to bitter debate among friends, family members, and coworkers. People in Los Angeles and across the United States have no clear consensus on the actual word being spoken. While we may never know the truth, it turns out there really is no right or wrong answer; the name you hear has more to do with your hearing ability.
What’s the Frequency, Yanny?
The name you hear depends on your ability to detect certain audio frequencies. In the audio clip, “Yanny” is generated using a higher frequency than “Laurel.” By manually changing the pitch and either boosting or lowering the frequency, you should be able to detect both words. To understand why this is so, let’s discuss the mechanics behind hearing loss.
As we age, tiny hair cells in the cochlea responsible for generating electrical signals to the brain, which are then converted to sound, naturally begin to deteriorate. The process occurs gradually and affects one-third of the population by the age of 65. At 75, the number of individuals with hearing loss is closer to 50 percent.
Once these hair cells are damaged, they do not grow back. Older people are more susceptible to hearing loss because of the cumulative effects of a lifetime of noise exposure, as well as the likelihood of developing a medical condition that can exacerbate hearing loss, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Trauma and ototoxic medications can also contribute to hearing loss, as can malformations of the outer or middle ear.
In age-related hearing loss – its medical term is presbycusis – high frequencies are affected first. So in broad terms, if you hear “Laurel” in the audio clip, your ability to distinguish higher frequencies is limited, possibly as a result of some degree of hearing loss; conversely, if you hear “Yanny,” it can be presumed that your hearing is closer to normal.
Regardless, as you get older, hearing evaluations should be an important part of your routine health care. We urge you to contact your Los Angeles audiologist to schedule an appointment for a hearing test, even if “Yanny” comes through loud and clear!