photo of man with headphones on from the backA short audio clip of a computer-generated voice has sparked a worldwide debate on social media about whether the voice is saying “Yanny” or “Laurel.”

First posted on Reddit, the audio clip quickly spread to Twitter and has sparked national and international media stories.

According to University of Guelph Prof. Patrick Barclay, whether you hear Yanny or Laurel depends on several factors from what you use to listen to the clip to how old you are.

Barclay, who has studied the role of voice pitch in our perception of whether someone is trustworthy or not, says pitch can play a strong role in how we interpret what we hear. In the audio clip, the word “Yanny” is heard when it is high-pitched, “Laurel” when it is low-pitched. Whether you hear it high- or low-pitched can depend on your computer speaker, how attuned you are to high or low pitches and how old you are. It’s known that younger people can hear higher pitches and therefore, Barclay says, they may be more likely to hear the word “Yanny.”

He says on average “Yanny” will be heard more often by young people and by those who have the treble turned up on their speakers. The word “Laurel” will be heard more often by older listeners and those with the bass turned up.

The speed at which the clip is played can influence pitch, says Barclay. Slowing the clip will lower the pitch of both “Yanny” and “Laurel,” so more people will hear “Yanny.” If you speed it up, more people will hear “Laurel.”

With all these factors at play, Barclay says it’s not surprising people can’t seem to agree on what word the computer-generated voice is saying.

photo of Prof Patrick Barclay with water in the background
Prof. Patrick Barclay