Psychology of Sound – An infographic by the team at Independent Hearing Professionals
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Sound affects the way we live our lives in so many ways – many more than you could possibly imagine. Read on to explore the fascinating psychology of sound…
The way we use pitch completely alters the way our words can be perceived. The exact same sentence could be used but by altering the frequency in places, we could be seen as making a statement, being sarcastic, asking a question or more.
- “A woman without her man is nothing”
- “A woman; without her, man is nothing”
Perceptions would also be differing if we were to whisper a sentence softly, or shout it aggressively.
In movies, punches that are thrown often miss by a foot or more – but when sound effects are added, along with effective enough acting – our brains are convinced that the punch is ‘real’.
In an experiment carried out by Ecker and Heller, identical clips were shown to participants of an animated ball on screen with two differing background noises; one with the sound of a marble rolling, and other with the sound of a basketball bouncing.
- 72% of respondents in their trial said that the marble ‘rolled’ faster, even though they were exactly the same clip.
- 80% of respondents perceived the motion as a ‘roll’ when the sound of the marble rolling was playing.
- Only 20% of respondents saw the motion of ‘rolling’ when the sound of the basketball bouncing was playing.
This research shows how sound affects our perception of depth, speed and motion.
Mood and Emotion
Sounds can also dramatically change the mood that we’re in, or the emotions that we’re experiencing.
If you’re having a particularly stressful day, the sound of phones ringing, colleagues gossiping or loud music playing may all be infuriating. Alternatively, those things – particularly the latter two – may be putting you in a good mood or getting you excited depending on how the week has panned out or what else you have planned.
Music is often linked to memories – even distant ones – and when a particular song comes on it can instantly change the mood you’re in, depending on whether it reminded you of the good times or the bad, and depending on whether you miss those times, you want to relive them or whether you’re happy that you’ve experienced them. Listening to music because of the emotions it evokes is known as ‘cognitive appraisal’.
Emotion is something that is regularly influenced by sound. This is something that is used extremely effectively in filmmaking. The background music alone can change a scene from a tense, scary affair to an act of comedy. The screeching sounds used in Psycho and the crashing chords of Jaws heighten suspense and terror by tapping into our instinctive fears.
Music also stimulates activities of the amygdala, which regulates emotion and even the brain stem, which is the centre for many of our vital functions such as breathing, heart rate and digestion. Interesting stories have been recorded in various fields, such as a woman suffering from Parkinson’s disease having improved balance whilst walking – even finding it hard to stop herself from dancing – whilst listening to certain music. Music therapy has demonstrated effectiveness in treating many neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, strokes, brain injuries, anxiety and depression.
Concentration and Productivity
Virtually all sounds have a negative impact on concentration. Anything to draw the ears and the mind away from the task at hand is something to try and shut off.
A study carried out at the University of Nebraska showed that volume isn’t necessarily the only factor when it comes to causing a distraction and reducing a person’s concentration. It’s this reason that when learning, researching or revising, that it’s best done completely in silence.
When it comes to being productive, different types of music can help in certain ways. Much of the boost in productivity comes from an uplift in mood, particularly if you’re working in a monotonous area such as on the production line.
Dr. Lesiuk found that, in a study involving IT specialists, those listening to music in headphones completed tasks more quickly and with better ideas – again due to an increase in mood.
Bass and synths are great for being efficient at the gym, but when you need deep thinking choose something more mellow.
A lot of the time, sound and loud noises are going to dampen how comfortable you are. Kids screaming outside whilst you’re in bed, people listening to music whilst you’re trying to watch the TV, roadworks being carried out whilst you’re studying…there are lots of negatives, but what about improving your comfort through sound?
Earbuds are a start. The sound of silence is a joy to behold after a stressful day.
Jokes aside, research from Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson at Mindlab International stated that the song ‘Weightless’ by Marconi Union was the most relaxing song of all time – being so effective that it made many women become so drowsy that he advised against driving whilst listening to it.
- Is 8 minutes and 13 seconds long.
- Caused a 65% decline in overall anxiety.
- Starts at 60 beats per minute, but gradually slows to 50 beats per minute
- Features guitars, pianos and the sounds of natural soundscapes
- Prevents the brain from predicting what will happen next, allowing it to switch off
- Slows heart rate, reduces blood pressure and decreases cortisol levels
It’s not just comfort that sound can affect, but many other physical factors too, even including taste! This is known as ‘sonic seasoning’ and ‘modulating taste’.
High frequency sounds:
- Enhance sweetness
Low frequency sounds:
- Bring out bitterness
Loud background noises:
- Suppresses saltiness, sweetness and overall enjoyment (airlines can never win!)
Sounds of the sea:
- Makes fish taste fresher and better
Whilst plants aren’t affected by psychological issues, they’re still living things – so can they be affected by sound?
In 1962, Dr. T C Singh of Annamalia University, India, found that musical sounds accelerated the growth of balsam plants by 20% in height and 72% in biomass. This was done using classical music, but was later replicated with raga music and found similar effects. He repeated the experiment with field crops using a gramophone and loudspeakers, and found the crops grew between 25-60% above the regional average.
Eugene Canby, a Canadian engineer, exposed Bach’s violin sonata to wheat and observed an increase in yield in 66% – further reinforcing Dr. T C Singh’s positive results from classical music.
Dorothy Retallack found that rock music had negative results on plant growth – with smaller leaves, abnormal vertical growth and even examples of plants trying to ‘escape’ the music. All of the plants leaned away from the rock music, no matter which way they were turned.
Country music was found to have no real effect on growth, whilst the benefits of playing jazz music were found to be small but noticeable.
How does music affect plants? Plants cannot hear music, they feel it through the vibrations of sound waves.
The differing frequencies and varying pressures of vibrations helps (or hinders, in the case of rock music) the protoplasmic movement in plant cells.