Why You Can Only Hear One Of Two Things When You Read These Words

Your brain is playing tricks on you.

auditory illusions Kirill Demchenko & Krakenimages.com / Shutterstock

Yanny or Laurel? Most of us remember the great "Yanny or Laurel" debate from 2018, which went viral and took over the internet.

Hundreds of people spoke their opinions and commented on how mind-blowing the audio meme was, with plenty of people confused about how they could hear two different words with the same audio clip.

They may not have known it at the time, but this phenomenon is called an auditory illusion. Auditory illusions are false perceptions of a real sound or outside stimulus.


According to Diana Deutsch, a British-American psychologist who is known for her work in music and speech illusions, auditory illusion are a "result from hearing sound patterns that are highly probable, even though they are heard incorrectly. This is due to the influence of our knowledge and experience of many sounds we have heard."

And now, there's yet another viral auditory illusion making its rounds on TikTok.



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There are tons of videos just like the one above that feature an auditory illusion where you can hear different words based on what your eyes are focused on.

The newest audio meme dividing the internet is the green needle vs. brainstorm illusion.

Though there are literally hundreds of videos on auditory illusions like this, the one above by TikToker Michael Cameron shows that the word you focus on is the one you hear: green needle or brainstorm. Two completely different words with completely different sounds located within them.

And yet, the internet and TikTok are stumped as to how you can hear both words within the video.

There are other videos where you can make out as many as seven words. One video by TikToker Jordann Meadows uses the words: iPhone, Fortnite, throw a knife, eye for an eye, 9th floor, nightfall, and forty-nine."


And depending on what word you focus on, that is the word you would hear. That's seven words in just one auditory illusion!



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Another one of Meadows' videos includes the words Rosie, heroes, zero, yours and euros. And yet another one features Bruno Mars' song "Treasure," with possible words including India, Kenya, give me a hug, get me out, and in New York, among others.


In all of these videos, the comment sections are filled with what people hear, and others who are struggling with a certain word. There are also comments alerting others that they can only hear one or two. Some even try the illusion with their eyes closed to see what they hear.

But why do our brains hear these 'phantom' words?

Well, there is actual science behind this bewildering phenomenon.

Auditory illusions actually highlight certain areas within the human ear and brain that differentiate from perfect audio receptors. This means that it is possible for a human to hear something that isn't there.

Humans are able to "react" to the sound they supposedly heard and correlate it to the one they believed or perceived was there. So if you hear the sound and are perceiving the word "green needle," that is the sound you will hear, and vice versa.


This is all thanks to the Reticular Activating System, also known as RAS. The Reticular Activating System is a set of connected nuclei within our brains that are responsible for what we focus on. They tell us what we hear in these auditory sounds.

The human brain, though powerful, can be tricked into thinking that it can hear something that is not there. In certain circumstances, the relationship between stimuli and the senses breaks down, which leads to these fascinating results.

And thanks to social media, TikTok and other platforms have now taken RAS into its responsibility to show the world.


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Deauna Nunes is an associate editor who covers pop culture, lifestyle, zodiac, love and relationship topics for YourTango. She's been published by Emerson College's literary magazine Generic. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.