Recently, an audio clip has been circulating on social media, asking people to listen to a recording and vote to indicate if they heard either “laurel” or “yanny”. This morning, we played the audio sample in a meeting in our office and three people heard “laurel,” whereas two people heard “yanny.” How is it that people are hearing different words from the same audio source? The short answer is: their brains are different!
It is important to understand that we hear with our ears but understand and process sound with our brain. This processing equates to our hearing and, thus, our perception of the world around us. To treat hearing loss, we use devices like hearing aids to amplify the sound, but it still has to travel through our hearing system to our brain. Since every brain is different, two people with the exact same hearing loss, hearing devices, and device programming will still hear differently.
Hearing devices are the first step in treatment of a hearing loss, but it is also vital that the brain be trained to process sound again. Familiarity with sound is an important part of understanding what your brain is hearing. Hearing in background noise is one of the most challenging listening situations for a listener, even one with normal hearing.
This sound sample provides a great illustration of the brain’s ability to filter and understand speech. If you first listen to the “noisy version,” it is almost impossible to discern any words. However, if you listen to the “clean version” and then again to the noisy version, it is easier to hear and understand the speech through the static. This is because the brain is now familiar with the voice.
Audiologists are able to assist people with hearing loss in selecting the appropriate hearing devices that will work best with their brain, as well as outlining the best way to retrain your brain to listen and understand sound. Once the best devices for your specific hearing profile have been selected, programmed, and fitted, it is important to practice listening — especially in background noise — to help achieve the best possible hearing. It takes more than just a hearing device to hear better.