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People are torn over an audio clip of a computer-generated voice, with some listeners saying they hear the word ‘Laurel’ in a deep male voice, and others saying they hear ‘Yanny’ in a higher-pitch

Media: Time

FAIRFIELD — Jamie Marotto heard “Laurel,” and now that’s all she can hear.

“People are hearing different things. I like to think of it as an auditory illusion,” said Marotto, who is a clinical assistant professor at Sacred Heart University and a licensed Connecticut audiologist, of the viral audio clip that, in the past week, has pitted those who hear “Laurel” against those who hear “Yanny.”

“I’m kind of biased already. For me it’s really hard to unhear ‘Laurel,’” Marotto added.

The divisive recording was made for the entry on Vocabulary.com for the word “laurel,” defined as a "wreath worn on the head, usually as a symbol of victory,” and was recorded by an opera singer in 2007. It gained notoriety recently by way of Instagram, Reddit and, finally, Twitter, when YouTuber Cloe Feldman posted it with a poll asking her more than 600,000 followers to weigh in.

According to Marotto, who made a YouTube video explaining the phenomenon, the confusion can be explained in a number of ways.

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For starters, the equipment from which one hears the word can greatly alter the sound.

“If I listen on my computer, versus the radio, versus TV, versus headphones, that’s going to change my perception because I’m manipulating the recording through all these mediums,” Marotto said.

The word is also spoken alone, without any context to help our brains come to a clear conclusion on its meaning. If the voice on the recording had read the word in a sentence, a meaning could be deduced by listeners and much of the confusion might have been avoided, Marotto said.

Plus, each of our brains and auditory pathways is equipped differently to perceive sounds. Different aspects of the recording may present themselves more clearly to some listeners as opposed to others.

“There is high frequency or low frequency information in both words. Your brain is just picking up on either the low pitch information or the high pitch information, for whatever reason,” Marotto said.

And, of course, personal bias comes in to play. What we hear is partly determined by what we expect to hear.

“All the information is there to hear either one, it’s kind of whatever your brain latches on to,” Marotto said.

justin.papp@scni.com; @justinjpapp1; 203-842-2586