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What does “Yanny vs Laurel” have to do with hearing loss? You may be surprised.


If you recall the heated Yanny vs Laurel debate, you’ll remember the all too familiar debates about whether people could hear the word “Yanny” or “Laurel” during a short sound clip that was originally posted on Reddit.

Because science is behind everything we do at 3M, we took a closer look at the science behind Yanny vs Laurel to see if we could settle this debate once and for all.

The truth is in the frequencies

Whether you hear “Yanny” or “Laurel” depends on your hearing profile and how you hear sound. The way the original recording was made is ambiguous, somewhat distorted, and provides a clever balance between the key aspects of speech that allow you to identify words.  This accounts for different people hearing the two different words. People who can hear the higher frequencies tend to hear “Yanny,” while people who mainly hear the lower frequencies tend to hear “Laurel.” This can be mimicked by changing the pitch of the recording as you listen to make it more likely you will hear one word or the other.

Because older adults tend to lose their hearing at the higher frequency ranges, they will more commonly hear the word “Laurel”. This also goes for people who experience hearing loss, including noise-induced hearing loss, which reduces the ability to understand speech.

Other factors that affect what you hear

Another factor that affects what people hear in the sound clip is the quality of the audio clip itself. Since the sound clip is not high quality, it can be equivocal to the listener whether they hear “Yanny” or “Laurel”. Another factor that comes into play is where the listener is hearing the clip – is it on mobile, tablet, a computer or the radio? Since the voice on the clip is computerized, it can change how we process the pitch of the word. Brad Story, Professor of Speech, Language and Hearing at The University of Arizona, believes that if you simply change the pitch of the original recording, you can actually hear both words.

The verdict

What’s the verdict? We know you wanted an easy answer and we hate to disappoint, but the truth is that it depends on who is listening, where they are listening, how old they are or whether or not they have hearing loss.

Want to make sure you can hear the word “Yanny” for as long as possible? Be sure to protect your hearing by wearing hearing protection in high-noise environments. Noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable, which means it’s important to protect what you have left.

Bev Borst, 3M Canada’s Advanced Technical Specialist, says that “The ability to hear is a key quality of life issue from communication with coworkers, friends, and family to the enjoyment of relaxing and listening to sounds such as music, or enjoying other recreational activities.  Many of life’s joys involve social interactions. Over time, sounds may become distorted or muffled, and you might find it difficult to understand other people when they talk.”

Learn more about how to prevent noise-induced hearing loss

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