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More PsychNotes: Communication

May 18, 2018

What Can We Learn about Perception from Yanny and Laurel?
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

By now you have surely heard the “Yanny vs. Laurel” debate on the internet. It can actually teach us something about perception and human differences. It amuses me how so many people are getting “freaked out” by this and/or attributing all sorts of nefarious explanations to it (i.e. mind control). Others are arguing with one another about which word is correct. This is a good example of the limits of perception and how we can thoroughly believe something is true when others can believe the opposite.

When I took a perception and psychology course in college my take-away from it is that nothing is real and everything is perception. For instance, a table is made up of atoms that are primarily space so a table has more space in it than matter, yet we perceive it as solid.

The reason everything is perception is that our experience of the world has to be filtered through our five senses which have their limitations. For example, we all have a blind spot in our visual field where the optic nerve connects to the retina. Yet, we never see the blind spot because our brain fills in what it thinks should be there. You can Google this to find out how to see the blind spot.

As a result of the limitations of our senses, each of us may vary in how we experience the world. How do I know that you see the table in the same way I do? Or, that your perception of the color red is the same as mine? But especially as it pertains to this debate, how can I know you heard the same thing I did or intended when we have a discussion or disagreement? I can't, really.

So, as with this “Yanny vs. Laurel” debate, we have to suspend disbelief at times and recognize that the other person can be right even though we perceive something completely different. This can be a useful practice to master as it can allow us to listen to others describe their perspective rather than argue about who is right. In the process we can learn something new.

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