Brainstorm or green needle? The internet is divided over the new Yanny and Laurel

If you’ve not heard the “Yanny/Laurel” audio clip that’s been doing the rounds on the internet all week then you must have been living under a rock. It’s no surprise that it went viral, because anyone you play the clip to tends to hears one word or the other, and usually finds it inconceivable that anyone else could hear it differently.

Now, a new audio clip has surfaced that appears to have a similar ability to trick different people’s brains into hearing different things.

The video, which was first shared on Reddit and has since been retweeted more than 85,000 times, shows someone pressing a button on a ‘Ben 10’ children’s toy (watch the original review). The accompanying sound clip can be interpreted as either “green needle” or “brainstorm”, with some people claiming you can trick your brain into hearing it either way, depending on which you think about.

Our Features Editor, Thomas McMullan, is one such person who could flip flop between the different words, but however hard I focus on the word brainstorm, I can only interpret it as “brain needle”, something reported by a number of Reddit users.

As pointed out by the Independent, there is a definitive answer on what the toy is saying, because Brainstorm is the name of a Ben 10 character. But what’s going on for different people to hear it so differently?

Talking to the Guardian, Professor David Alais from the University of Sydney’s school of psychology described  such phenomena as the Laurel/Yanny clip as “perceptually ambiguous stimulus”.

“If there is little ambiguity, the brain locks on to a single perceptual interpretation. Here, the Yanny/Laurel sound is meant to be ambiguous because each sound has a similar timing and energy content – so in principle it’s confusable.

“All of this goes to highlight just how much the brain is an active interpreter of sensory input, and thus that the external world is less objective than we like to believe.”

Other experts have  highlighted the important of prompts. When we see two words written above a clip, our brains will almost certainly choose one word or the other, especially if there’s a sensory ambiguity.

“Expectations can really bias your perception of speech sounds,” John Houde, who runs the speech neuroscience lab at University of California, explained to Business Insider. Perhaps this is why some people are able to trick their brain into switching between two interpretations by simply thinking hard about the words “brainstorm” or “green needle” before they actually hear it.

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