Sound, music, chatter, or the endless background noise of the world around us - we are constantly surrounded by sound. We all know that the sounds we hear influence our mood - some noises are soothing, like the wind blowing through the forest or the ocean waves hitting the beach. Others trigger an instant "fight or flee" response, annoy us beyond our limits or push us into a lethargic, depressed state. The connection between certain sounds and our moods have been used in various ways, especially in movies (they would be far less atmospheric without their soundtracks) and more recently in a new form of art called sound photography, a new form of art combining the effects of sound and vision into a single emotional effect.
But does sound - more specifically noise - have an effect on our health? According to various sources, it does - and a pretty serious one, too.
Certain noises can be very distractive and thus, have negative effects on concentration and focus. In a classic experiment, children were placed in a classroom facing train tracks in an elementary school in New York. They were shown to have fallen behind their schoolmates in more silent classrooms. As it turns out, the distracting noises of the tracks caused the teachers to lose focus more often, thus teaching the children up to 11% less than their colleagues working in the silent part of the building. After adding sound insulation and sound mitigating panels to the building, the performance gap between the two classes disappeared.
It hurts our heart
Noise does more than just distract us from the tasks at hand - it also harms our circulatory system. Steady exposure to noise pollution has been shown to affect the heart and the circulatory system, leading to high blood pressure and sometimes even fatal heart attacks, a report published by the World Health Organization and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre shows.
The same report has reiterated what many psychologists have sustained for years: constant exposure to noise impairs the development of children and can have long-term negative effects on their learning capabilities. "There is overwhelming evidence that exposure to environmental noise has adverse effects on the health of the population," the report concludes.
Low frequency sounds
Last but not least, let us take a brief look at an interesting phenomenon caused by low-frequency sounds. Infrasound, the term used for sound between 20 Hz and 0.1 Hz, is inaudible to the human ear but it is felt - and it has some interesting effects. A study conducted in 2006 has proven that the infrasound generated by wind turbines affected the people living nearby in ways that were not necessarily harmful but rather inconvenient. Those exposed were feeling annoyed, fatigued, they experienced feelings of fullness, tinnitus, insomnia, and other sleep disturbances. Infrasound may even be responsible for the numerous reports of haunted houses.
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