It’s That Dress Again, But Now For Your Ears

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By Stephen L. Macknik

It’s an epic auditory insult. Akin to: I say tomato and you say “blow it out your ear.” I just listened to the new amazing illusion, in which about half of the denizens of my current café hear a voice say “Yanny” whereas I clearly hear “Laurel.” It’s a magical-seeming deception that seems innocent when you hear it. But it reveals itself as mysterious—and a little bit sinister—when you ask your friends, listening to the same recording at the same time, what they hear, and its totally different from what you hear. Try it now:

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My wife agrees with me—Laurel—saving our marriage from otherwise certain divorce—but our three rotten kids instead all hear “Yanny.”

So what is going on? We’ll have to find out when neuroscientists around the world start digging in to determine its neural underpinnings of this equivocal percept in the lab. But this is what we can tell you at this time, drawing some inferences from equivalent visual illusions, like The famous Dress that took the world by storm in February of 2015.

Dress Illusion, about half of the world’s population sees a white-gold dress, whereas the other half sees a blue-black dress. Like the Yanny-Laurel Illusion, nothing at first seems amiss, until you start talking to somebody about your experience and discover that their sensation is completely different from yours.

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