While we at Chicago Hearing Services love to geek out over hearing health, we realize that that’s (unfortunately) not common for the rest of the world. That’s why it was so exciting to see hearing enter the pubic conversation with the recent “laurel” vs “yanni” debate.
First, some background on how this all started: A few weeks ago, someone was poking around on vocabulary.com and happened to notice that the audio file for the word laurel sounded like “yanni” to them. From there, it ended up on Instagram, and the rest is history.
Everyone chimed in on the debate, from President Trump to Kanye West. The New York Times actually built a tool that manipulates the frequencies in the recording to show how some people might hear one thing while others hear something else entirely. In a poll of half a million people on Twitter, 53% heard laurel, while 47% heard yanni. If you have not heard this conflicting recording click on the audio file below
Why the difference?
It all has to do with the way the listener’s ear is tuned. If their ear tends towards higher frequencies, they’re more likely to hear “yanni”, while if it tends toward lower frequencies, chances are they’ll hear “laurel”. Older people, who are more likely to have lost their hearing for higher frequencies (which go before others) are more likely to hear laurel.
Want to try it for yourself? Try the tool built by the New York Times that helps you modulate the frequencies. Adjust the dial until you hear the two words change. If you adjust precisely enough, you might even hear the words change on each repeat despite the fact that the sound is exactly the same. That’s your hearing playing tricks on you!
So, why is this important?
What this social media phenomenon has so usefully pointed out is that everyone’s hearing is different. As such, it’s important that hearing health professionals consider each patient’s unique needs when treating them to ensure that their hearing treatment plan works for them.
As with many other fields of medicine there is no “one size fits all” solution. Hearing aids aren’t just an amplification tool that you can set and forget. Each individual’s brains react different to amplification and the relationship with the audiologist is vital to the success with amplification. Often, an audiologist adjusts the frequencies on a hearing aid to improve the hearing of the patient as much as possible. That’s also why we’re conflicted about the growing market in hearables. In our opinion, despite their ease of use, these devices will never be able to replace the services of a knowledgeable audiologist when it comes to tuning them to each patient’s unique hearing apparatus.