Everybody has heard about the Yanny vs. Laurel thing. Ad nauseum. Some high school student was doing her homework and looked up the word “Laurel” on vocabulary.com. She played the pronunciation recording and heard “Yanny”. She said “wait, what word do you hear?” and shared it on instagram and, next thing you know, it’s viral.
What do you hear?! Yanny or Laurel pic.twitter.com/jvHhCbMc8I
— Cloe Feldman (@CloeCouture) May 15, 2018
The ensuing arguments over Yanni vs. Laurel were a replay of the arguments about “The Dress“.
Definitely laurel. Anyone who says yanny, y’allcrazy
— Kolby Allard (@KolbyAllard) May 16, 2018
Y’allcrazy if your hear Laurel
— Kaytlin?? (@kaytlinneale1) May 17, 2018
Well, AsapSCIENCE did the favor of breaking down why some people hear one and other people hear the other. If you don’t want to watch the video, part of the issue is one of “priming”. By asking “yanny” vs. “laurel” in the first place, you were primed to hear one or the other. If the question were merely “what word do you hear?”, there might be 4 or 5 different words that people heard.
The priming narrowed the listeners down to 2 options. The science shows why some people hear one and can’t hear the other (specifically: people who have done some damage to their hearing will hear Laurel. People who haven’t can hear the frequencies that allow Yanny to happen. It’s sort of like that sound that only young people can hear.) So some people’s ears pretty much could not hear anything but “laurel”. Others couldn’t hear anything but “yanny”. The input device (the ear, in this case) heard, or failed to hear, certain frequencies and hearing them, or not hearing them, completely changed the experience of the word.
Shortly after the Yanny/Laurel thing, the internet found yet another wacky word thing but this was somewhat more interesting in that many listeners claim to be able to hear different words when they prime themselves.
My experience of this word was weird because I heard only “Brainstorm” and couldn’t hear “Green Needle” to save my life but when I was writing something in another window, the video was playing in the background and I found myself hearing “Green Needle”. When I switched focus back to the video, the word changed to “brainstorm” immediately. When my brain is idle and doing something else, it hears one thing. When it’s focusing on the video, it hears the other.
This is one of the things that “priming” does to my brain. By pre-loading it with expectations, it changes the experience of the information its getting.
In 2003, Eason Jordan wrote an op-ed called “The News We Kept To Ourselves” about stories that the writers at the NYT didn’t report. Horrible stories about people in Iraq being tortured or killed or both. Stories that had to be kept quiet lest more people be tortured or killed or both. It was only after the war started that some of these stories were able to come out. Finally, Eason Jordan was able to break his silence.
On May 16th, just the other day, the New York Times had another op-ed talking about stories that the journalists had to keep to themselves. The two paragraphs that caught my eye:
Early in that war, I complied with Hamas censorship in the form of a threat to one of our Gaza reporters and cut a key detail from an article: that Hamas fighters were disguised as civilians and were being counted as civilians in the death toll. The bureau chief later wrote that printing the truth after the threat to the reporter would have meant “jeopardizing his life.” Nonetheless, we used that same casualty toll throughout the conflict and never mentioned the manipulation.
Hamas understood that Western news outlets wanted a simple story about villains and victims and would stick to that script, whether because of ideological sympathy, coercion or ignorance. The press could be trusted to present dead human beings not as victims of the terrorist group that controls their lives, or of a tragic confluence of events, but of an unwarranted Israeli slaughter. The willingness of reporters to cooperate with that script gave Hamas the incentive to keep using it.
The McGurk Effect is another fascinating thing that the brain does. You hear either “bah bah bah” or “fah fah fah” depending on the visual information you get. The exact same sound changes from a voiced bilabial stop to a voiceless labiodental fricative based on what you see the guy’s mouth doing. The same sound… but what you see completely changes the information you’re getting by the time it gets to your brain.