Surrounded by Sound

Have you ever thought about why you love the sound of rain, while your friend can’t stand it? Ever notice how your heart races when you hear a siren? These physiological, cognitive, psychological, and behavioral responses can be summarized as the psychology of sound.

Physiologically

Sound can a ect our hormone secretions, breathing, heart rate, and brain waves. Our response to sound depends on its characteristics — intensity, frequency, predictability, complexity, and length of exposure, as well as our interpretation of the meaning of the noise. Noise is different than sound. Noise pollution, as de ned by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is “unwanted or disturbing sound” and can diminish quality of life.
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), the nonauditory effects of noise are:

Cognitively

Our ability to process sound is actually pretty low, which makes it hard to hear in background noise or while two people are talking at once. For example, sound consultant Julian Treasure claims that open-plan o ce spaces can reduce productivity by 66 percent.

n a study published in the British Journal of Psychology in 1998, researchers found that employers were incredibly distracted when they could hear others talking around them, and they were less able to perform their duties. Noise in the o ce is also associated with increased stress hormone levels and a lower willingness to participate with others.

e Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States. Twenty-two million workers are exposed
to potentially damaging noise each year. Many people don’t realize they have a hearing loss until it’s too late. Even then, you might not realize your hearing has gotten worse because you no longer have a reference point for understanding what healthy hearing is.

Psychologically

Music has the strongest emotional impact of any type of sound for two reasons: It’s easily recognizable and easy to associate. However, it’s not
the only kind of sound that a ects emotional state. Birds chirping is an example: In our primitive days, birdsong was generally a reassuring sound. When the forest became quiet, that’s when it was time to worry. About 48 million people in the United States alone have signi cant hearing loss. ose who seek treatment often see improvement in their overall health.

New hearing aid users experience less anxiety after starting hearing aid use.

Hearing aid users experience a reduction in depression,
as measured by a geriatric depression scale.

Hearing aid use is shown to improve generic and hearing-related quality of life.

Behaviorally

Sounds — whether they are pleasant, intense, or annoying — can change our behavior. A re alarm gets your attention and makes you want to get away from the sound. Contrast that with what you do when you hear your favorite singer live in concert (hopefully you’re dancing!).
Ever wondered why some people have a strong reaction to sounds? It’s called misophonia. is condition is de ned as the hatred of sound; however, “a person with misophonia does not simply hate all sound. People with misophonia have specific symptoms and triggers and are sensitive only to certain sounds (and occasionally to visual triggers). Any sound can become a problem to a person with misophonia, but most [often the troubling sounds] are some kind of background noise.”
These sounds can trigger people to have an instant, emotional response. When someone’s trigger set (the sounds that set them o ) is heard, the person can have a wide variety of reactions from annoyance to panic or anger. is kind of response is like a siren or an alarm to the person with misophonia, and they may urgently try to distance themselves or become agitated.

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