Sound

Why do certain sounds bother some people?

Photo credit: LuAnn Snawder Photography licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Some people are bothered by common sounds that don’t bother others, such as noise from chewing. The technical name for this disorder is “misophonia.”

For many years, misophonia has been thought to be a psychological problem, but new research shows that the problem may be neurological in origin. People with misophonia have differences seen on brain scans from those without misophonia.

Medical science is replete with examples of diseases thought initially to be due to psychological causes, but later found to have biological bases. For example, stomach ulcers were long thought to be caused by stress, with a contribution from spicy food or alcohol, but then they were found to be caused by bacteria.

In the auditory field, hyperacusis–a sensitivity to sound, in which noises that don’t bother others are perceived as painful by those with this condition–was also long thought to be psychological. Then researchers found pain fibers in the auditory nerves, and the biological basis of this condition was better understood.

So kudos to the researchers studying misophonia. For those who suffer from this disorder, having the science world focus on identifying the biological basis for the problem may be the first step to treating it.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Apple Watch noise app test shows accuracy within 1%

Photo credit: This photo by Alex Binary has been dedicated into the public domain

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition, and Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to this tech reviewer, an independent test of the new noise app on the Apple iWatchmeasured noise with 1% of a professional sound level meter, i.e., it measured 88 decibels when the professional meter measured showed 88.9 decibels. That’s pretty darn good!

But you don’t need the noise app on he iWatch, or any of the available smart phone sound meter apps that are available, to tell is a sound is too loud.

The World Health Organization recommends only one hour at 85 dBA to prevent hearing loss. If the ambient noise is loud enough that you have to strain to speak or to understand the person you’re speaking with, it’s above 75 A-weighted decibels* (dBA) and your hearing is in danger.

Because if something sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

*A-weighting adjusts the sound measurement for the frequencies heard in human speech.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

What kind of sound should electric cars make to warn pedestrians?

Photo credit: Mike from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This interesting article in The New York Times discusses carmakers’ efforts to choose the sound their electric cars will make. Electric motors are quieter than internal combustion motors, and regulations in Europe and the U.S. require–or will require–electric and hybrid powered vehicles to make sounds that warn pedestrians of their approach, especially the visually impaired.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data show that hybrid electric vehicles were 35% more likely than standard cars to be involved in a pedestrian accident, and 57% more likely to be involved in an accident with a bicycle. Personally, I think the problem may be greater for distracted pedestrians who are talking or texting on their phones than it is for the visually impaired.

If vehicles can be required to make sound, they can also be required to be quieter. So the principle of regulations about vehicle noise would appear to be without controversy. And the same principle needs to be extended to vehicles, such as the muscle cars and Harley-Davidson motorcycles also mentioned in the article, that make too much noise.

Actually, there are existing federal regulations and regulations in many states about vehicle noise, but these are rarely if ever enforced—and that needs to change.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

The world’s most accessible museum?

Photo credit: David Samuel licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the New York Times describes the new Wellcome Museum in London, which was specifically designed to be accessible to those with visual, auditory, and mobility issues. The piece also mentions an exhibit at the Tate Museum that was inaccessible to those in wheelchairs because it had two steps at the entrance, and of a public monument to a century-old labor dispute that was also not accessible to those who couldn’t climb steps. The main idea is that those in the UK who design museums, art exhibits, and public monuments are now aware that these places, designed for the public, should be accessible to as many people as possible.

The same principle of universal access should apply to restaurant design and other public spaces. Ambient noise in restaurants makes it difficult if not impossible for those with hearing loss to understand speech. And designing restaurants and public spaces with a goal toward reducing noise levels will make it easier for everyone to converse with their dining companions, not just the hard of hearing.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Listening to the crickets

Photo credit: Beckie licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This wonderful essay in the New York Times discusses listening to the sounds crickets make at night.

We have crickets where I live, and they can be noisy. I knew that their sounds were made by male crickets rubbing their wings together in hopes of finding a mate, but who knew that crickets have strategies to amplify their sounds?

The main reason to protect our ears is to be able to hear speech, but being able to hear nature’s wonderful sounds is another good reason.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Modern music compression leaves Neil Young cold

Photo credit: Graham Berry licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In this wide-ranging New York Times article about musician Neil Young, I learned that Young doesn’t like modern music compression technology, which he thinks has adverse neurological effects and takes the enjoyment out of music. Music or sound compression technology erases highs and lows in volume with a loss of musical detail. I know that I find sounds on my iPhone to be tinny and it bothers my ears.

I also learned about the Tomatis Method, an auditory stimulation program that claims to improve brain function. Dr. Tomatis believed that listening to Mozart could change brain function.

I’m not sure about that, but I do like Mozart and find listening to his music soothing to my ears and my soul.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Sacred space? Museum journal devotes special issue to sound

Photo credit: Negative Space

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Do you think of museums and zoos as places of quiet, refuge and reflection? Sure, who doesn’t? They’re invaluable when you need thinking time or just a respite from the noisy, chaotic world outside. Then this introduction to a special issue of the journal Curator will interest you. Turns out museum directors and curators have grown more interested in this subject recently—so interested that Curator’s editors devoted an entire issue of their journal to sound and noise.

Inspiring them to address this topic was The Quiet Coalition’s co-founder Arline Bronzaft, PhD, an indefatigable researcher and anti-noise advocate from New York City—and New York City is definitely a place where world-class museums offer respite and reward to millions of people. This special issue compiles 18 papers from several decades of work by researchers and museum curators on how to use quiet and sound as part of the museum experience. Here’s what journal editor John Fraser has to say:

Today, this special double issue of Curator seeks to bring to the attention of museum leaders the value of listening to our museums. Museums may be more focused on listening to their visitors, but the papers on the following pages suggest that we have a long way to go to ensure that all senses are considered an essential part of all museum experiences.

I found it fascinating, for example that the reverberant sound from the walls of a zoo enclosure significantly increased the aggressiveness of–and diminished the sexual behavior of–rhinoceros females. What lessons might we infer about humans’ increasingly violent and aggressive behavior in the crowded, glass-walled, reverberant canyons of modern city streets?

Wonderful, voluminous reading from an unexpected and very well-informed perspective. Enjoy!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S123-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Speech discrimination begins in the womb

Photo credit: lunar caustic licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

A recent report looks at new research demonstrating that speech discrimination begins in the womb.

That’s not surprising. Gulls don’t speak, but they communicate danger by their cries, and the New York Times reported that the ability to recognize danger cries also begins in the egg!

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

How the sound of buildings affects us

Photo credit: Riccardo Bresciani from Pexels

Lakshmi Sandhana, The BBC, writes about how the acoustic qualities of our homes, offices, and public spaces impacts our comfort level and may even affect our moods.

Sandhana notes that even though we rely on eyes to help us navigate our world, “our ears are constantly picking up information from our surroundings that unconsciously alters how we feel about a space.”

Fortunately, people are starting to understand that buildings and spaces need to be acoustically satisfying and not just visually attractive or useful. Writes Sandhana:

Scientific research suggests they are wise to do so. Noisy work and home settings have been proven to annoy people, and noise annoyance itself has been linked to depression and anxiety. Furthermore, issues concentrating in the workplace due to office noise and intermittent noise has been found to significantly reduce human performance.

Not to mention how noise affects our ability to enjoy a meal.

Sandhana reports that the way sound interacts with a building’s physical structure can even affect our emotions, noting, for example, that an open space can make us feel freer.

And there are whole disciplines, now, says Sandhana, that are focusing on materials and technologies that could help abate noise in cities and reduce sound pressures above recommended levels. In fact, Sandhana tells us that virtual reality systems are allowing architects to hear “how the spaces they design might sound like through ‘auralisations’ of structures using acoustic modeling software.”

It’s all very exciting. But perhaps most exciting of all is reading that sound and noise in public and private spaces may finally be getting the attention that it deserves.