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Why Are Some Sounds So Awful to Hear?

Science & Tech  (tags: humans, research, science, scientists, investigation, discovery, hearing, study, sounds, brain )

- 2014 days ago -
When you hear the sound of a nail scratching a blackboard, the emotional and auditory part of your brain are interacting with one another, a new study reveals.

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Michael O (176)
Saturday October 13, 2012, 8:42 pm
The heightened activity and interaction between the amygdala, which is active in processing negative emotions, and the auditory parts of the brain explain why some sounds are so unpleasant to hear, scientists at Newcastle University have found.

"It appears there is something very primitive kicking in," said Dr. Sukhbinder Kumar, the paperís author. "Itís a possible distress signal from the amygdala to the auditory cortex."

Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL and Newcastle University used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine how the brains of 13 volunteers responded to a range of sounds.

Listening to the noises inside the scanner, the volunteers rated them from the most unpleasant, like the sound of knife on a bottle, to the most pleasing, like bubbling water. Researchers were then able to study the brain response to each type of sound.

"At the end of every sound, the volunteers told us by pressing a button how unpleasant they thought the sound was," Dr. Kumar said.

Researchers found that the activity of the amygdala and the auditory cortex were directly proportional to the ratings of perceived unpleasantness. They concluded that the emotional part of the brain, the amygdala, in effect takes charge and modulates the activity of the auditory part of the brain, provoking our negative reaction.

Analysis of the acoustic features of the sounds found that anything in the frequency range of around 2,000 to 5,000 Hz (cycles per second) was found to be unpleasant.

"This is the frequency range where our ears are most sensitive. Although thereís still much debate as to why our ears are most sensitive in this range, it does include sounds of screams which we find intrinsically unpleasant," Dr. Kumar explained.

Professor Tim Griffiths from Newcastle University, who led the study, said, "This work sheds new light on the interaction of the amygdala and the auditory cortex. This might be a new inroad into emotional disorders and disorders like tinnitus and migraine in which there seems to be heightened perception of the unpleasant aspects of sounds."

The study has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience.


Michael O (176)
Saturday October 13, 2012, 8:45 pm
Most unpleasant sounds:

- Knife on bottle
- Nails on chalkboard
- Fork on glass
- Chalk on blackboard
- Ruler on bottle

Least unpleasant sounds:

- Applause
- Baby laughing
- Water flowing
- Thunder

Rebecca S (61)
Saturday October 13, 2012, 10:15 pm
I think in addition to pitch, that to some extent, things like 'nails on the chalkboard' and other unpleasant sounds, are somewhat just psychological. Especially considering people will shudder at the phrase 'nails on a chalkboard', without actually hearing the sound.

Bill K (4)
Saturday October 13, 2012, 10:17 pm
most unpleasant sound of all - sarah palin's voice

Roger G (154)
Sunday October 14, 2012, 10:01 am
noted, thanks !

Suzanne L (98)
Sunday October 14, 2012, 6:03 pm
The sound of rain is the most pleasant to me.

Talya H (10)
Sunday October 14, 2012, 6:13 pm
Board scratching! OMW! :p

Deborah Hock (0)
Sunday October 14, 2012, 8:57 pm
A couple of years ago, a rock crusher was allowed to run approx. 40 feet from my home.
Aside from moving, which I am considering, no-one seems to care.
To pass the permit for this, the owner of the company paid out of his pocket for the evaluation to be done.
The testing to pass this evaluation was NOT done under load, or without the beeps of the bull dozers and backhoes running.
I completely understand about the anger impulses of certain sounds bombarding one's tranquility.

Veronica C (24)
Sunday October 14, 2012, 9:13 pm
Interesting, but I don't agree with everything on their list of least and most unpleasant.

Jules W (61)
Monday October 15, 2012, 5:27 am
Thank you for sharing.

Frans Badenhorst (582)
Monday October 15, 2012, 5:43 am
interesting post.... I like the sound of a gentle wind through any tree's leaves. A barn owl once flew about three feet from me at great speed and that was also a very intriguing sound, very soft. Nothing beats the sound of thunder......

Sam E M (0)
Monday October 15, 2012, 7:43 am
Hate: the repetitive squeak of a rusty windvane or a swinging gate.
Love: rain, thunder, the sound of running water and violin music. :)

Dip kk (2)
Monday October 15, 2012, 8:31 am

M B (62)
Monday October 15, 2012, 9:46 am
I like the sound of water the most - and the least = sreaming rats.

Rosie Lopez (73)
Monday October 15, 2012, 1:19 pm
interesting thnx!

Gloria H (88)
Monday October 15, 2012, 1:51 pm
screaming children. Someone vomiting. Car alarms. Bills tumbling through the mail slot. Campaign commercials.

Fred Krohn (34)
Monday October 15, 2012, 2:16 pm
Just curious: Who gets to pay for this study?!?!

. (0)
Monday October 15, 2012, 4:01 pm
Screaming and/or whining children.

Parvez Zuberi (7)
Tuesday October 16, 2012, 2:23 am
Interesting thanks for sharing

Shan D (49)
Friday October 19, 2012, 7:24 pm
I hate ANY sound a human baby makes.

The worst noise I ever heard was from my neighbor's ham radio. He hadn't shielded it properly, and I lived in a stucco house that had chicken wire in the walls. Every time he got on his radio, I'd hear mumbling coming out of the corner of my living room! It wasn't the TV (wasn't on) or radio (I don't use one). Repeated attempts to resolve the situation with the neighbor went nowhere, and he got very abusive. So finally I contacted the federal government and reported him. They took away his license, and the problem was solved. Good thing too, since that mumbly sound sends me into a frenzy of rage, where I want to kill the source of it. I was honestly trying to figure out how to take an axe and chop down the guy's radio tower thingy.

Robert O (12)
Saturday October 20, 2012, 4:56 pm
Very fun and interesting. Thanks Michael.

MmAway M (505)
Saturday October 27, 2012, 12:01 am
Thank you Micheal! Dang always hating the nails on the chalk board...that sound reminds me when the teacher was coming rushing at me with her ruler! Fooey!
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