The sounds that make you cringe


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Everyone has them. For most people it's the sound of nails on a chalkboard.  Although that sound really bothers me, the worst one in my opinion is the sound of styrofoam.  I've been bothered by this my whole life and the struggle of eating out of the to-go containers from the dining commons doesn't help.  So why is it that our bodies react so negatively to just a simple sound?

Studies of the brain show that when you hear an annoying noise, the amygdala strengthens the response of the auditory cortex which causes your body to be uncomfortable. In simpler terms: the part of your brain that deals with emotions strengthens the part that deals with sound, causing the cringing reaction.

In addition, musicologists in Europe found that the shape of your ear canal can also be part of the reason why shrill sounds are so horrible.  Michael Oehler, professor at the University of Cologne in Germany, found that the most painful frequencies range between 2,000-4,000 hz, which is generally in the middle range on the scale. Essentially, between the frequency of the noise and the shape of the ear canal, there are multiple factors that cause discomfort from certain noises.

Oehler and his colleague Christoph Reuter found that perhaps psychology is also to blame for why people cringe at some sounds. The two of them conducted a study in which they played a song with the sound of a screeching chalkboard in the background, which people actually found more enjoyable than just hearing nails on a chalkboard in class.  However, the physical reactions were still similar, this proves that people are mainly phased by shrill noises because they already have a preconceived idea that they are annoying and should bother them.  To some people, the thought alone of the sound that bothers them could also cause them to cringe.

nails on chalkboard.jpg

 Further studies of this issue could potentially help doctors in understanding some disorders as well as the existence of migraines.  Additionally, manufacturers could benefit from further research on this topic as well and create products that generate sounds at lower frequencies (i.e. vacuums, sledgehammers, etc.).

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