One word pronounced in a weird robot voice is making lighting-speed rounds at the moment, creating a wave of confusion in its wake.
Like most of the internet’s confounding illusions, this one appears to have started on Reddit – specifically, a subreddit dedicated to “black magic f*ckery.”
Apart from “who made this” and “where did it come from”, the big and unanswered question is this: is the robot saying “Yanny” or “Laurel”?
As always, when there’s disagreement on the internet, everyone remained calm and respectful.
“I hear Laurel and everyone is a liar,” one Reddit user wrote.
if you’re hearing Yanny you have a brain tumor
— FanSince09 (@FanSince09) May 15, 2018
Can you imagine being such a garbage person that you hear Laurel and not Yanny
— Matt Pedretti (@matt_pedretti) May 15, 2018
people who think it’s laurel:
• are correct
people who think it’s yanny:
• eat pizza with a fork and knife
• don’t use turn signals
• ask for snapchat streaks
• film fights vertically on their phones
• didn’t understand infinity war’s ending
— chris melberger (@chrismelberger) May 15, 2018
To make it worse, some couldn’t even agree with themselves.
i feel like some kind of super-human because i hear both, “yanny” and “laurel” if i listen carefully. “yanny” is more clear, but “laurel” is definitely there in a deeper “voice”
— megan (@bellelovestea) May 15, 2018
For those who can hear both words, the illusion is especially consuming.
“I heard yanny for 10-15 minutes, then asked someone else and they said laurel, and after listening it for some more time, i could sometimes hear a high pitched “yanny” or a low pitched “laurel.” True black magic f*ckery,” a Reddit user confirmed.
“You listened to this for 15+ mins?” another replied.
“That’s back magic f*ckery right there.or just a huge waste of time…”
The conspiracy theorists came next, drawn to “huge wastes of time” like moths to a flame.
I’m 100% positive the Yanny/Laurel thing is some weird cyber mind trick Putin created to destroy our minds… the end is Yanny
— Roland Scahill (@rolandscahill) May 15, 2018
Other theories were more plausible. Several people have noticed that you can hear different words depending on how the pitch of the sound is changed, as demonstrated in these YouTube videos here and here.
Others thought the interpretation had something to do with age, kind of like those ring tones that only young people under 25 can allegedly hear.
“When you get older you will hear Laurel,” one Reddit user concluded sagely.
“Not even joking – the “yanny” part of the recording is only in the high frequencies and the “laurel” recording is in the low frequencies. People with hearing damage (which is everyone older than 20-25) won’t perceive the “yanny” part.”
People who are older than 25 immediately began piping in to dispute the idea.
Another Reddit user thought turning the bass down might do the trick, but those adjustments also didn’t work for everyone.
“I literally just turned all frequencies below 1khz to negative 70 decibels and I still hear ‘laurel,'” a user replied.
No matter how hard the internet looked, it just couldn’t seem to find a pattern. Then some experts came to the rescue.
Jody Kreiman, a principal investigator at the voice perception laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, told The New York Times her best guess is that “the acoustic patterns for the utterance are midway between those for the two words.”
So, depending on the person, they can perceive these patterns differently.
“If I cut your ears off and put someone else’s on your head, sounds would sound different,” Howard Nusbaum, who studies speech science at the University of Chicago told Gizmodo.
“The signal information is present for both words in the acoustics, but some people are listening to some frequencies and others are listening to other frequencies.”
Matt Mikkelsen, a sound and audio engineer, agreed with Nusbaum, adding that how you listen to the recording can also change what you hear. Changing headphones or speakers, for instance, could turn your “yanny” into a “laurel”.
Plus, our preconceived notions also play an important role. If you listen to the recording expecting or listening for a certain word, then you are more likely to hear that word.
The musician Yanni figured that one out pretty quickly.
All of these little factors add up to cause absolute pandemonium on the internet.
In fact, the confusion and the chaos caused by the audio recording has been so great that it even shut down The Ellen Show for a brief moment.
Who knows what could happen next.