The Yanny/Laurel debate has taken the Internet by storm, sparking debates in the White House and dividing households. The New York Times even developed a tool allowing you to hear both. Now, researchers at New York University are launching a study to settle Yannygate once and for all – and they’re asking for your help in doing so.
Pascal Wallisch, a clinical assistant professor at the university’s Department of Psychology, told IFLScience he hopes to figure out how the auditory illusion manipulates the brain. Everyone agrees that the Laurel signal is contained in the low frequency part of the recording, whereas the Yanny part is contained in the high frequencies. The question now comes down to where the differential experiences come from.
“Because most people tacitly assume that everyone experiences the world more or less as they do, stuff like the dress and this vividly illustrates that this is not the case,” he said. “It also startles people because it shows that their own grasp on reality might be more tenuous than they previously believed.”
Some forums have credited the different audio interpretations to a “device thing”, and that people hearing it on a cell phone versus a computer allows for them to hear different things. Wallisch says this can’t be true because people listening to the same device can hear different things. Instead, he is working on several theories.
The first is that it's simply an age thing.
“That's certainly part of the story, but not all of it because young kids, like my son, sometimes hear Laurel,” said Wallisch. “The same person can change their mind, like me. I don't age that fast, and the direction of the change isn't always in the predicted direction. And people change back."
That moves us to the second theory, which is that what you hear depends on what you’re expecting to hear. Our visual and auditory systems work together to help us identify what’s going on externally. So, the visual cue could be influencing what you’re hearing, just like what we saw with the #thedress.
“As far as I'm concerned, this is currently the most compelling account, because everything we know about how the dress works and how this works (so far) is consistent with it,” said Wallisch. “Of course, one has to guard against confirmation bias.”
This leads us to the third theory: something else is going on entirely.
The voluntary Subjective Life Experience and Beliefs Survey takes about five minutes. In it, you will be asked about how you perceive certain images and sounds, as well as to answer questions about your beliefs and personal background.