Why are some people bothered by sounds and others not?

Sound is everywhere. It imperceptibly does more to you than you think. Unfortunately also more than you can influence yourself.

Dr. Tjeerd Andringa has been researching the effects and especially the perception of sound for years. That experience is different for everyone. “Sound is something that is for the most part processed unconsciously. One wakes up to the sound of a rubbish truck early in the morning, the other sleeps through it quietly. Those who suffer from it have taught themselves at some point that the sound is apparently important enough to wake them up. That is something that the person has actually done himself”

The tricky thing, and at the same time the interesting thing for Andringa, is to turn that into something that doesn‘t bother you anymore, so that you sleep just like the other person. Bad news: there is no solution for this (yet).

Emotion

“There must be possibilities to change the relationship between the sound and the negative emotion that is activated. Think of something as simple as setting up a different sound around the time of the rubbish truck. When there is more annoyance, you can even think of EMDR, therapy that weakens the relationship between the negative emotion and the sound source”

Andringa does see that the effect of noise pollution is more recognised over the years, also because environmental noise, especially in the big cities, increases over the years. Tourist trunks, the noise pollution from terraces, the increased number of cars: these are all factors that affect the quality of life.

The corona crisis has also made us more conscious, because of the ‘forced‘ silence and the absence of tourists and economic activities. “We discovered that the sound environment in which we were sitting was not so good at all. Precisely because we have now experienced it differently”

Eventually, the rolling cases will return, as will economic traffic. It is important to reduce the nuisance with small adjustments. By taking the tables on the terrace further apart, for example, so that visitors don’t have to raise their voices to get over the neighbours. Or by banning loud rolling suitcases, which is already in place in some parts of large cities.

Andringa: “It’s often very small things that contribute to better quality. Cars cannot be banned, but smaller sound effects can be regulated more. Think of electric scooters

Nature

On the other hand, there are noises that do make us happy. Nature sounds are at the top of the list. “They remind us of a calm and safe environment, which makes us feel finer and more relaxed

In his research, Andringa asked people in a noise-induced environment which sounds make them happy. The answers were remarkable. “One became calm from her reading husband, the other from grazing cows. Another from her cleaning neighbour. Sounds of other living creatures indicating that they feel safe. All small sounds that are easily drowned out by what we don’t want to hear: an aeroplane, train or car.”

The sound we collectively hate? Surrender! “Everyone feels disgust. It physically affects us. An annoying sound doesn’t have to be loud, the drone of windmills at night when it should be quiet, it can be. It depends on the emotion you link to it, or on the moment.”

“A lover of rock-hard techno must have circumstances in which he would rather not hear that music. We can be disturbed by any sound. Or rather: we can learn to be disturbed by every sound. Some get used to it perfectly and can ignore it, others cannot. It’s just the meaning you give to it”