You probably remember that in 2015, a photograph of an article of women’s clothing made headlines because of how it was perceived by different people. Two individuals could look at the same photo and see two different color schemes. Social media outlets were strongly divided into teams of “black and blue” and “white and gold” based on what color the dress appeared to be to a given person. A similar phenomenon made the rounds on social media earlier this year—only this time, it was an audio recording. It turns out that the differences in how people perceive colors, sights, and sounds could be affecting our criminal justice system.
Yanny or Laurel?
When you look at the words “yanny” and “laurel,” there does not seem to be any way that you could confuse one for the other when you hear them. However, a recording from a vocabulary website generated considerable buzz when some visitors to the site had trouble hearing the recording as it was intended to be heard. The recording was posted on the page for the word “laurel,” a noun that usually refers to a wreath worn around the head as a symbol of victory. It turns out that in the slightly distorted, computer-generated speech recording, some people were hearing “yanny”—a word that does not exist.
But, why does this happen? And, how does it relate to criminal law?
According to sound experts, the two words have very similar acoustic patterns. Which word you hear seems to depend on whether you are more in tune with lower frequency sounds or higher frequency sounds. Those whose brains lean toward lower frequencies seem to hear “laurel,” while those who brains favor higher frequencies generally hear “yanny.” Some people can actually hear both, especially once they focus on higher or lower frequencies intentionally.
Cognitive and Perceptual Biases
While it may not matter very much whether your brain unconsciously chooses to hear a particular word in an internet recording, unintentional biases can certainly make a difference when it comes to criminal justice. One of the most concerning types is called “confirmation bias.” There is entire sector of research dedicated to confirmation bias, and studies have shown that human beings will seek, recall, and interpret certain details and information while ignoring other data that is also relevant.
Confirmation bias can be most easily explained as a tendency to see new evidence as a confirmation of existing theories or beliefs. This is a serious problem when applied to law enforcement investigations and criminal prosecutions. For example, the Innocence Project reports that in more than two dozen cases where a wrongful conviction was overturned, mistaken and shaky voice identifications supported the original conviction. Basically, a voice was identified as belonging to the defendant because the identifier was too focused on the defendant instead of the possibility that the voice could be anyone else’s. Confirmation bias has also been shown to exist in fingerprint analysis and other forensic applications.
Are You Facing Charges for a Crime You Did Not Commit?
When you have been arrested and are facing criminal charges, the legal system is difficult enough without ambiguous evidence or witness statements. Fortunately, an experienced Connecticut criminal defense attorney can help you present your side of the case. Call 860-290-8690 to schedule a free, confidential consultation at Woolf Law Firm, LLC today and get the help you need during a difficult time. Our skilled team is ready to serve you.