Home Audiology Why do we Love Loudness?

Why do we Love Loudness?

by Ann Dix

Joul's scream

Photo by L.Bö

Why do we humans enjoy doing things that might be harmful?  Some people are crazy about dangerous activities like skydiving, extreme skiing and jumping off high cliffs wearing wingsuits.  In comparison, listening to loud music seems tame!  But the hearing loss and tinnitus that can result from too much loud music can be truly devastating, so we all need to turn it down or put in those earplugs, to protect the hearing that allows us to enjoy the music in the first place.

Interestingly, it seems that humans have always found ways to make loud sound and loud music. An early type of drum consisted of a pit dug in the ground, covered with heavy bark; dancing on the top of the pit produced a hollow, resonant sound.  Stone Age people also blew into hollowed-out animal horns to produce shrill, piercing tones.  And my favorite example is the bull-roarer–a thin piece of bone attached to a leather thong, which makes a roaring sound that is audible for miles when whirled in the air.  Such early noise-makers are thought to have been used mainly in warfare and for religious rites: to terrify and control, or to create a sense of wonder and mystery.

During the 19th century, people began to use principles of electromagnetism and novel ways to transform one type of energy to another.  These discoveries opened the door to new and louder musical sounds.  Since the advent of amplified music, there has been an increased demand for louder and louder instruments.  The sound pressure at concerts today often reaches levels that can damage fans’ hearing within minutes, but many enjoy it and come back for more.

I have collected survey data and anecdotal comments from people who enjoy loud music since 1995.  When asked to describe the feeling, common themes come up, such as a sense of power, strong connection to the music, and physical responses.  Here are a few examples

  • “Loud music allows me to completely ignore the outside world.”
  • “When you hear something that just grabs you, you want the volume cranked up so that you can feel it throughout your whole body, and let it pour into your soul.”
  • “Listening to loud music helps me to relieve stress.”

And it’s not just music!  Motorcycles, skimobiles, jet skiing, car racing, boom cars and shooting are other examples of dangerously loud activities with enthusiastic followings for whom the high sound pressure level is part of the pleasure.

As speech and hearing professionals, we are often in the position to counsel our clients, friends and family members to protect their hearing from loud activities they consider enjoyable.  How do you find the right words and the right tone of voice to reach someone who is hooked on listening to their favorite tunes through earphones while dodging rush hour traffic?  If you have an anecdote, suggestion, strategy, or even a simple phrase about promoting healthy listening in your community, please share it by posting a comment.


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. 


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Hanna Bogen April 10, 2012 - 11:13 am

If the client is relatively young and still has a competitive spirit, make it a challenge to see how low they can turn down their iPod/computer/iPad/etc. volume and still hear the music. You can start by just seeing if they can ID the song at super low volumes, then move on to lyrics, then onto even more subtle aspects of the music. Try to get them to track their “amazing new hearing abilities” each day for a few weeks to see how much progress they’ve made. As they get better at tuning into their music and improving their auditory discrimination skills, they’d be more likely to stick with lower volumes in the future! It’s such a challenge to change people’s mindsets, but with the amount of music most people listen to on a daily basis, this might be a good place to start!

Jeaneth Deras Riley April 15, 2012 - 11:00 am

As a Nurse and mom of teenagers, I always explain why I ask my kids to do something. I always tell them the consequences of their actions. if they decide to do the opposite of what I advised, they are not surprised. I find that to be a powerful strategy for my family. At work, on the other hand, I continue to be supportive of what the Physician advised. I find that kindness and honesty go a long way. The wise advise of God is still true, the truth will make one free!!

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