Tag Archive: brain

Is quiet a luxury?

The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.

Albert Einstein

Rachel Lapidos, wellandgood.com, looks at the growth of silent spa resorts or retreats in her piece, “Is silence the next wellness luxury?.” Lapidos writes that “some in the wellness field consider total quiet a newfound luxury.” Why? Lapidos quotes Beth McGroarty, research director at the Global Wellness Institute, who says the reason is “because it’s so rare now,” adding that “people pay for silence, because that’s how bad [modern life] is—[silence] is so precious.”

Precious, indeed, with Lapidos writing that quiet is “something they’re even shelling out thousands of dollars to get, whether it’s through silent spa resorts or retreats.” So is it just a fad based on more on effective marketing than sound science? McGroarty states that “[s]tudies have shown that when the brain is silent, your hippocampus—the center for organizing thoughts—actively creates neurons, [and] [y]our cortisol also drops, as well as your heart rate and blood pressure. There’s a mental and a physical impact.” “Compare this to when you’re staring at your phone or computer screen and your cortisol shoots up with every (disconcerting) news flash,” adds Lapidos.

But what about those who don’t have the time or money to run off to silent retreat? Lapidos writes that “studies have shown that a mere five minutes of silence a day can have a positive impact on the brain.”  So put down your smart phone, find the quietest space in your home, and enjoy the newest luxury that you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy.

Link via @QuietEdinburgh.

 

 

What’s the difference between noise and sound?

By Daniel Fink, MD

One of the heated discussions that sometimes occurs among those of us concerned about noise is the use of the terms “noise” and “sound.” Some people insist that we hear noise but measure sound. Others say the terms can be used interchangeably.

The word “noise” means “unwanted sound,” with an implication of being bothersome. One dictionary definition of noise is, “a sound, especially one that is loud or unpleasant or that causes disturbance.”   “Sound,” on the other hand, implies meaning, “a particular auditory impression.”

Nina Kraus, Professor of Communication Sciences, Neurobiology, and Otolaryngology at Northwestern University, has written an intriguing article for Scientific American that discusses new research that shows that our brains can actually tell the difference between noise and sound. Studies of brain waves, done at Northwestern, show that sound is understood by the brain while noise merely disrupts it.  And noise not only interferes with function, it can actually damage the brain:

Noise is more pernicious than an in-the-moment nuisance. Even a modest level of noise, over a long enough period of time (e.g. beeping garbage trucks, hair dryers, air conditioners), can cause damage to the brain networks that extract meaning from sound. Many of us don’t even realize our brains are being blunted and our thinking impeded by this invisible force.

So what can we do to protect our brains from damaging noise?  We can’t shut out all sound, because “the absence of meaningful sound also leaves a mark on the ability to process sound.”  Dr. Kraus adds that “there are distinct ways to tone and hone your listening brain.”  Namely:

You can learn a second language. The challenge of juggling two languages bolsters the auditory system and redounds to improvements in cognitive functions such as attention.

Another way to exercise your auditory brain is to play a musical instrument. This has a huge payoff cognitively and emotionally for children and adults alike. A few years of playing an instrument while in school sharpens the auditory system and can benefit language development in children. And this benefit lasts a lifetime.

Fascinating!  Even more supporting evidence for the goal of The Quiet Coalition: to make the world quieter, one decibel at a time.

Dr. Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area.  He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

An interesting read about how the brain

extracts meaning from noise. Have you suddenly been able to understand someone with a thick accent or identify the lyrics in a song and felt like “your brain appear[ed] to be re-tuning to recognize speech that was previously incomprehensible”?  The University of California at Berkeley reports that its “neuroscientists have now observed this re-tuning in action by recording directly from the surface of a person’s brain as the words of a previously unintelligible sentence suddenly pop out after the subject is told the meaning of the garbled speech.”  Click the link to read more about this fascinating study.

Why do elderly people with otherwise normal hearing have difficulty hearing some conversations?

Background noise to blame for the elderly being unable to keep up with conversations.  The Express reports on a University of Maryland study that found that “adults aged 61-73 with normal hearing scored significantly worse on speech understanding in noisy environments than adults aged 18-30 with normal hearing.”  The study’s authors stated that the “ageing midbrain and cortex is part of ongoing research into the so-called cocktail party problem, or the brain’s ability to focus on and process a particular stream of speech in the middle of a noisy environment.”  Because many older people who are affected by the “cocktail party problem” have normal hearing, the study notes that talking louder doesn’t help.  If an older person can see the person he or she is speaking to, visual cues can help, as well as the obvious–make the environment quieter.

Sadly, many restaurants, bars, and some coffee shops are just too noisy for older people to be able to hear well and participate in conversation.  Organized efforts to push back against unnecessary noise are gaining a toehold in the public sphere, but more needs to be done.  Until things improve, New Yorkers can find some respite by visiting our sister site, Quiet City Maps, for a guide to New York City’s quieter spaces (and a heads-up for places to avoid).

And don’t forget that if a restaurant or coffee shop is too noisy because of loud music, ask them to lower it.  If they don’t, leave and tell them why you won’t be coming back.  Push back starts with your wallet.

Link via @QuietEdinburgh.

At what point does your brain perceive sounds as music?

Psychologist zeros in on when sound becomes music.

Medical Xpress examines the work being done by Adam Greenberg, an assistant professor of psychology at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who is using a type of brain imaging called imaging to study how the brain recognizes and responds to music.  Professor Greenberg found that “some of [the] brain regions that process the basic properties of sound are shared with regions that are involved in processing low-level properties of visual information.”  He adds that the “finding has implications for the kinds of things that we sometimes experience, like when you’re listening to music and you get visual imagery popping into your head or feelings of wanting to dance.”  In short, because the activity of sight and sound regions overlap, “the experience of may be much more than just an auditory phenomenon.”

Link via @HyperacusisCure.