‘Laurel’or ‘Yanny’? ‘MS-13’ or ‘All’?

There’s an interesting parallel, and a lesson for all.

This week, the internet (and most news shows) were ablaze with the question “Do you hear ‘Yanny’ or ‘Laurel’?”

In a nutshell, a 1-word audio loop is played … some folks hear the word ‘Yanny’, some hear ‘Laurel’.

Click here if you haven’t heard the audio clip.

What’s up with that?


According to most sources …

Audiologists pin the differences on the ability to hear high-pitched sounds.

That ability varies with age … generally declining with age.

So, older people have a greater tendency to hear ‘Yanny”.


There’s a second explanation that no pundits seem to have lstvhed onto: cognitive biases … a favorite topic in the HomaFiles.

Specifically, there are at least 3 inter-acting cognitive biases at work: anchoring & adjustment, contextual cueing, and selective perception.

For example, older folks are much more likely to be familiar with a musical performer named Yanni.

That familiarity makes them more likely to hear ‘Yanny’’ … they’re familiar with the name, they anchor on its sound and they selectively hear sounds that confirm they’re anchor.

Turns out that the audio clip is taken for the definition of ‘laurel’ on Vocabulary.com.

The word means a wreath worn on the head, “usually a symbol of victory” … but that’s irrelevant.

My hypothesis: once Yanny-hearers are alerted to the actual source of the clip, many (most?) will start to hear ‘laurel’,

New anchor, cued by a different context, forcing realigned selective perception.


So, what’s that got to do with MS-13?

Simple, but true.

Yesterday, mainstream media was blasting the headline “Trump calls all undocumented immigrants ‘animals’?

Say, what?

On the day prior, in a televised forum on immigration, Trump did say “these people are animals and we need to get them out”.

I heard it live …

So, the press picked up on that and ran with it.

The cognitive biases at work: context: Trump speaking; cue: immigration, anchor: ‘all immigrants’.

CNN was initially on the bandwagon, but to its credit, eventually modified its story to read:

“Trump’s comments came (immediately) after the Fresno County Sheriff talked about her struggles in navigating state and federal laws to allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement to “find the bad guys” in their jails” … and specifically added “MS-13 members”.

The context: still Trump speaking on immigration; the cue: ‘MS-13’; the perception: ‘MS-13’

What’s the difference?

In the Yanny versus Laurel case, when folks aare alerted to the context, they’re likely to perceive the audio clip differently.

When the mainstream media is re-cued with actual context (MS-13’) … most keep reporting that “Trump says all undocumented immigrants are animals”.

Sometimes, another cognitive bias dominates: confirmation bias.

See All of the info I’ve collected says I’m right … so there!

That one stops people from reflecting the context or responding to specific cues … they simply stay firmly anchored on their going-in beliefs.

Think about it …


Follow on Twitter @KenHoma

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