Tuesday, May 22, 2018

On frequencies, auditory illusions and mosquito ringtones

If you've spent any time at all on the internet over the past week or so, you've probably seen (and heard) the raging debate about "Laurel vs. Yanny." The audio clip that has spawned countless internet debates is essentially an auditory illusion; whether you hear "Laurel" or "Yanny" (or something in between) depends on how our ears and brains pick up and interpret different frequencies. (For the record, I hear "Laurel.")

And, although it's not based on quite the same auditory dynamic, the differences in ability of people to hear and interpret different frequencies at the heart of the "Laurel vs. Yanny" phenomenon reminded me of a post I wrote exactly a decade ago about "the noises that teenagers hate," i.e. high-frequency sounds that younger people can hear but that older people lose the ability to hear as they age. Which made me wonder: how has my hearing changed in the last ten years? The same website I used to try to hear those high-frequency "mosquito ringtones" (that teenagers put on their phones to alert other students in class without the teachers hearing it) when I wrote my post a decade ago is still available, so I put my ears to the test.

It turns out that I can still hear everything from 8 kHz through 14.1 kHz well. The 14.9 kHz tone just barely comes through, but is still there. With my ear close to my phone's speaker and at full volume, I can also still hear the 15.8 kHz tone that is supposed to be inaudible to anyone over 30; however, it is very faint and it struggles to overcome my background tinnitus. I also *think* I can still just barely perceive the 16.7 kHz tone (that nobody over the age of 24 is supposed to hear) as a very faint piercing feeling in my head, but it might be that I am simply tricking myself into thinking I am hearing it when I push the "play" button. As was the case ten years ago, no tone higher than that is perceptible.

So my hearing might have degraded rather modestly over the past ten years, but I can still pick up some of these high frequencies that most people of my age group are supposedly not able to hear.

I can also hear well enough to know that you "Yanny" people are just insane!

No comments: