Fingernails slowly dragged down a chalkboard, a shrieking woman, or that high-pitch sound of a drill makes us cringe on the spot and cower in disgust.  Even pressing your hands against your ears does not seem to help.  Okay, I admit it, I like to find weird and unusual science stuff in addition to my crime scene forensics.  And I like to share!

Have you ever thought about why we cringe at such terrible sounds? 

Is our brain programmed to make us shrink from these types of noises?

According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, there has been a correlation between the emotional and auditory parts of the brain with heightened activity when we hear repulsive noises.  Everyone has a different level of sensitivity, but for the most part, we all find certain sounds horrible.

Newcastle University scientists have discovered that the auditory cortex (processes sound) and the amygdala (processes emotions) of the brain to be active when we hear certain sounds.  Researchers tested volunteers using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and rated the individual results from the least to most pleasant sounds.

Some of the worst noises rated  in the study were knife on a bottle, fork on a glass, nails on a chalkboard, and a female scream to the most pleasant of water flowing and a baby laughing.  In addition, researchers found that the frequency of the noises from 2,000 to 5,000 Hz was found unpleasant to most people.

From the scientific perspective, understanding the brain’s reaction to noise could help scientists and doctors to understand individuals with medical conditions such as autism and misophonia (hatred of sound).

“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 a heightened perception of the unpleasant aspect of sounds”, says Professor Tim Griffins from Newcastle University, who led the study.

I didn’t see the sounds such as a gas leaf blower, wood chipper, and a fork sliding across a dinner plate on the list, which are sounds that drive me insane.  This interesting information might prove to be a fun aspect to add to a character in a fictional book.

What’s your least favorite sound?

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