We can fight over whether we hear “laurel” or “yanny,” but we can all agree that this viral meme (first tweeted by Cloe Feldman) gives us a window into the complex factors at play in how our brains perceive the world. Here are a few resources to dig deeper:
First, there are the environmental factors that influence the sound. The actual sound clip, from vocabulary.com, is “laurel.” When the clip was played through speakers by high school students in Georgia and recorded again, it changed the original sound and added different audio frequencies. Try this New York Times tool that lets you experiment with which frequencies are played most strongly.
Second, different people’s ears may be sensitive to different ranges of audio frequencies. Aging, as well as long-term exposure to loud sounds, can damage sensory cells in your ears and reduce your ability to hear high frequency sounds. Read more from the Philadelphia Inquirer about how this might affect whether you hear, and watch this interactive video to test the limits of your own range.
Finally, our brains add another filter by interpreting new information based on what we know from past experience. In my previous blog, I explained how this “top-down” processing works; it’s a shortcut for your brain to make sense of the world around you. For another great example of top-down processing, try the “Say That Again” game. Because each person’s prior experiences are unique, however, it can lead people to perceive the same information in different ways. Read more from Vox about how your brain creates your picture of reality.