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When music becomes noise

MAY 31, 2024
In acoustic environments where individuals have limited choice, music can be perceived as noise, leading to elevated stress and adverse health outcomes
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In urban areas, music permeates everyday life — whether it’s the intense track in the gym, the cheerful melody in the mall, or the repetitive tune in the elevator. However, individuals react to music differently; while music is typically seen as a positive regulator for our emotions, in certain contexts, it becomes noise.

One important factor that may transform music into noise is whether people have control over it. In many public spaces, health-damaging levels of loud music are imposed onto listeners to encourage certain reactions. Furthermore, groups with clinical or non-clinical sensitivities, such as those with hyperacusis or sensory-processing sensitivity, are often disregarded in the creation of such environments.

To reduce music-related discomfort, Carraturo et al. reviewed research data and statistics that can significantly improve acoustic regulations around prevention and intervention. They highlighted the need for acoustic environments tailored to individual vulnerabilities and preferences.

“With the support of statistical data, we argue that the acoustic environment surrounding us is often hazardous to our health, and that leisure sounds such as music, given their generally positive connotation, are often underestimated,” said author Elvira Brattico. “Therefore, we advocate for increased awareness of the negative effects of forced exposure to music due to individuals’ varying sensitivities.”

In the right contexts, music provides therapeutic advantages with its deeply emotional and personal connotations. The authors look forward to future psychology and neuroscience research addressing auditory sensitivities.

“Music, within a controlled environment, serves as a familiar, easily modifiable, safe, and non-threatening stimulus, making it a promising therapeutic tool,” said Brattico.

Source: “Loud and unwanted: Individual differences in the tolerance for exposure to music,” by Giulio Carraturo, Marina Kliuchko, and Elvira Brattico, The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (2024). The article can be accessed at https://doi.org/10.1121/10.0025924 .

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