On a recent evening walk I stopped to listen to a familiar September melody: crickets singing. In a flash the sound brought memories of the summer that had just passed by and summers that preceded it. It also got me anticipating the season change, with colorful fall days followed by short winter ones, then melting ice and the burst of life that signals spring. All this from a few crickets!
Attending the National Hearing Conservation Association annual convention about ten years ago I was invited to write my favorite sound on a little white index card. That was the first time I learned of the Favorite Sounds project, and it was probably the first time I had ever thought of sound in that way. In this ongoing study of favorite sounds, 70% of respondents have indicated they enjoy sounds categorized as “natural” whereas 30% chose “mechanical” sounds. Further broken down this includes:
- Natural sounds: weather related (29%); animals (29%); and human (24%)
- Mechanical sounds: music (70%) and vehicles (13%)
Now that I am a convert to the topic, I add new favorites to my own list regularly–like crickets. And I use Favorite Sounds as a discussion starter and writing prompt in my classes at Boston University. It’s a good way to engage students, and if I can’t draw them out with favorite sounds, this follow-up question usually does: What are some sounds you dislike? Through the years I’ve learned that a lot of people like the sound of crickets, but others can’t stand them–for various reasons. One example: some people who experience tinnitus describe it as sounding like annoying crickets. Tinnitus is a distressing condition associated with hearing loss, and with noise induced hearing loss in particular.
The topic of favorite and un-favorite sounds is relevant in hearing loss prevention and other broad questions of public health. In the 1980’s some research groups investigated whether exposure to loud music is less risky to hearing when the music is considered by the listener to be pleasant vs. unpleasant. Although the result of one study seemed to indicate such an effect, in general there is agreement in the research community that exposure to very loud sound is risky to hearing, enjoyable or not. And noise can affect more than our hearing: current research suggests that exposure to noise in our daily lives is associated with stress and elevated risk of cardiovascular problems, even at levels well below those that can damage the hearing mechanism.
So whether you like the sound of crickets or close the windows when they begin their serenade, noise in the environment impacts all of us in many different ways. Noise is one of the interesting topics addressed frequently by ASHA’s Special Interest Group 8: Public Health Issues Related to Hearing and Balance. Join us and learn more!
Lindgren, F., and Axelsson, A. (1983). Temporary threshold shift after noise and music of equal energy. Ear & Hearing, 4(4), 197-201.
Meinke, D., Lankford, J. and Wells, L. (2002). Collecting favorite sounds. Available online at: http://hearingconservation.org/associations/10915/files/Favorite%20Sounds%20Handout.pdf
Moudon, A. V. (2009). Real noise from the urban environment: How ambient community noise affects health and what can be done about it. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 37(2), 167-171.
Swanson, S.J., Dengerink, H.A., Kondrick, P., and Miller, C.L. (1987). The influence of subjective factors on temporary threshold shifts after exposure to music and noise of equal energy. Ear & Hearing, 8(5), 288-291.
Ann Dix, CCC-A, grew up in a musical family and became interested in speech and hearing through her background playing and singing in rock and roll bands. She has been a clinical faculty member of Boston University’s Speech Language and Hearing Sciences department since 1997. Ann blogs at Now Hear This, a Boston University blog about sound and hearing.