Tag Archives: noise

Lockdown reduced noise exposure across the US

Exposure to environmental noise during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic dropped almost by half in several areas of the United States, according to a new study. This data will now allow researchers to describe what personal sound exposures are like for Americans.

Credit University of Michigan.

Researchers from the University of Michigan joined forces with Apple to look at noise exposure data from volunteer Apple Watch users in Florida, New York, California, and Texas. It’s one of the largest noise analyses to date, including more than half a million daily noise levels measurements before and during the pandemic.

The findings showed daily average sound levels dropped by about three decibels after governments announced social distancing and stay-at-home orders in March and April, comparing these to readings from January and February. California and New York had very drastic reductions in sound, while Florida and Texas had a less significant reduction.

“That is a huge reduction in terms of exposure and it could have a great effect on people’s overall health outcomes over time,” said Rick Neitzel, associate professor at the University of Michigan and co-author. “The analysis demonstrates the utility of everyday use of digital devices in evaluating daily behaviors and exposures.”

At first, the largest drop in environmental sound exposure was registered on the weekends. Nearly 100% of participants reduced their time spent above the 75-dBA threshold (a sound level roughly as loud as an alarm clock) between Friday and Sunday. But then, as people returned to work, researchers found no distinction between working days and weekends.

The study is one of the first ones to collect data over time in order to understand how everyday sound exposure can impact hearing. The data will now be shared with the World Health Organization and will help describe what personal sound exposures are like for Americans across different states and different ages.

“These are questions we’ve had for years and now we’re starting to have data that will allow us to answer them,” Neitzel said in a statement. “We’re thankful to the participants who contributed unprecedented amounts of data. This is data that never existed or was even possible before.”

Noise pollution is common in developed and developing countries. The most well-understood health impact of noise, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), is also one of the most common illnesses globally — NIHL affects tens of millions of people around the world. This disease has traditionally affected adult workers with high exposure to occupational noise. However, recreational noise exposures such as listening to music and attending concerts appear to be increasing in the US and around the world.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Exposure to traffic noise promotes obesity

Living in areas with high traffic has several adverse health effects, mostly due to the air pollution generated by vehicles. But even the noise itself is pretty bad for your health, a new study reports.

image via Pixabay.

New research at the University of Oxford and the University of Leicester found that long-term exposure to traffic noise could be a promoter for obesity. People living in such areas had a higher chance of having an increased body mass index and waist circumference, the study explains. This effect was more pronounced in areas with louder traffic noise.

Heavy traffic

“While modest, the data revealed an association between those living in high traffic-noise areas and obesity, at around a 2% increase in obesity prevalence for every 10dB of added noise,” says lead author Dr. Samuel Yutong Cai, a senior epidemiologist at the University of Oxford.

“The association persisted even when we accounted for a wide range of lifestyle factors, such as smoking, alcohol use, physical activity, and diet, as well as when taking into account the socio-economic status of both individuals and the overall area. Air pollution was also accounted for, especially those related to traffic.”

The study worked with data from more than 500,000 people, data which it mined from three European biobanks in the UK, the Netherlands, and Norway.

The authors describe the identified link as ‘modest’ because they uncovered an interplay between traffic noise and indicators of obesity in individuals from the UK and Norway, but not in the Netherlands. By themselves, these results aren’t enough to reliably confirm a cause and effect relationship between the two. However, the authors note that the findings are backed up by previous similar findings in other countries in Europe.

Still, the findings can’t, as of right now, be used as proof that one causes the other. They do, however, offer enough evidence to warrant further research into the topic.

Over 100 million people in the EU live in areas where road traffic noises exceeds 55dB (decibels) in volume, which is the safety threshold set by the EU, the paper notes. This exposure could be a driver of obesity.

“It is well-known that unwanted noise can affect quality of life and disturb sleep,” says co-author Professor Anna Hansell, Director of the University of Leicester’s Centre for Environmental Health and Sustainability.

“Recent studies have raised concerns that it also may influence general health, with some studies suggesting links to heart attacks and diabetes. Road traffic noise may increase stress levels, which can result in putting on weight, especially around the waist.”

Most of our efforts to stay healthy and avoid the extra pounds only work on an individual level — think things like exercise or dieting. And we should definitely keep doing that, as they are still the most effective tools we have against obesity. But policies that reduce traffic noise (or at least, exposure to it) may help further tackle this issue “on a population level,” argues Dr Cai.

“As we emerge and recover from COVID-19, we would encourage the government to look at policies that could manage traffic better and make our public spaces safer, cleaner and quieter,” he adds.

“Air pollution is already a well-known health risk, but we now have increasing evidence that traffic noise is an equally important public health problem. The UK should take this opportunity to think about how we can, as a society, re-organize cities and communities to support our health and reap better health outcomes across the whole population.”

The team is now testing how exposure to other sources of noise, such as that produced by aircraft, influences weight gain.

The paper “Impact of road traffic noise on obesity measures: observational study of three European cohorts” has been published in the journal Environmental Research.

White noise makes hearing things easier

Not all noise is created equal. According to a new study, a background of white noise can enhance how well you hear other sounds. These findings could be used to design new and improved cochlear implants that provide better hearing.

Credit: Pixabay.

Hearing is an incredibly complex process in which numerous very fragile components of the ear work in unison to pick up pressure waves (i.e. what we call ‘sound’) and relay signals to the brain.

Scientists still don’t understand the complete picture of how acoustic signals are perceived and processed in the brain. But, if there’s one thing we do know about hearing, it’s that the more precisely we can distinguish sounds, the better our hearing. Imagine talking to a person in a crowded bar versus a quiet restaurant. You’d probably have to bend your ear closer to the other person in the former situation to make sense of the conversion, while in the latter scenario you can comfortably understand and communicate with your conversation partner.

Dr. Tania Rinaldi Barkat, a neuroscientist at the University of Basel in Switzerland, wanted to investigate how sound discrimination looks at the neural-level in a challenging sound environment.

The closer two sounds are in their frequency spectrum, the harder it is to tell them apart. You’d also think that having noise in the background would make the task even more challenging — but the opposite was true in measurements of a mouse brain.

Barkat and colleagues showed that when white noise was in the background, the brain’s ability to distinguish subtle tone differences improved compared to a quiet environment. In other words, the noise facilitated rather than hindered auditory perception.

When they focused on the matter, the researchers found that white noise can inhibit the activity of nerve cells in the auditory cortex, which is the area of the brain that is most involved in processing acoustic signals. But this suppression ironically led to a better auditory perception of the pure tones.

“We found that less overlap occurred between populations of neurons during two separate tone representations,” explains Professor Tania Barkat. “As a result, the overall reduction in neuronal activity produced a more distinct tone representation.”

This new insight could be used to improve hearing aids, which could stimulate users with a mild white noise in order to improve auditory discrimination.

The findings appeared in the journal Cell Reports.

Leaf blowers are not only annoying but also bad for you (and the environment)

The seemingly-innocuous leaf blower may actually cause a lot more damage than you’d think — to both your health and the climate.

A groundskeeper blows autumn leaves in the Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh.
Image via Wikimedia.

It’s that time of the year: trees are shedding their leaves, and people are blowing them off the pavement. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this quaint image actually hides several health concerns for operators and the public at large.

The inefficient gas engines typically used on leaf blowers generate large amounts of air pollution and particulate matter. The noise they generate can lead to serious hearing problems, including permanent hearing loss, according to the CDC.

Sounds bad

Some noise may not seem like much of an issue, but the dose can make it poison. The CDC explains that using your conventional, commercial (and gas-powered) leaf-blower for two hours has an adverse impact on your hearing. Some emit between 80 and 85 decibels (dB) while in use. Most cheap or mid-range leaf blowers, however, can expose users to up to 112 decibels (a plane taking off generates 105 decibels). At this level, they can cause instant “pain and ear injury,” with “hearing loss possible in less than [2 to] 5 minutes”.

The low-frequency sound they emit fades slowly over long distances or through building walls. Even at 800 meters away, a conventional leaf blower is still over the 55 dB limit considered safe by the World Health Organization, according to one 2017 study. Because they’re so loud, they can be heard “many homes away” from where they are being used, Quartz explains.

This ties into the greater issue of noise pollution. The 2016 Greater Boston Noise Report (link plays audio,) which surveyed 1,050 residents across the Boston area, found that most felt they “could not control noise or get away from it,” with leaf blowers being a major source of noise. Some 79% of responders said they believed no one cared that it bothered them. Leaf blowers are also seeing more use — in some cases becoming a daily occurrence. As homeowners and landscaping crews create an overlap of noise, these devices can be heard for several hours a day.

Image credits S. Hermann & F. Richter / Pixabay.

With over 11 million leaf blowers in the U.S. as of 2018, this adds up to a lot of annoyed people. Most cities don’t have legislation in place that deals with leaf blower noise specifically, and existing noise ordinances are practically unenforceable for these devices. However, there are cities across the U.S. that have some kind of leaf blower noise restrictions in place or going into effect.

Noisy environments can cause both mental and physical health complications, contributing to tinnitus, hypertension, and generating stress (which leads to annoyance and disturbed sleep).

Very polluting

A report published by the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) in the year 2000 lists several potential hazards regarding air quality when using leaf blowers:

  • Particulate Matter (PM): “Particles of 10 Fm and smaller are inhalable and able to deposit and remain on airway surfaces,” the study explains, while “smaller particles (2.5 Fm or less) are able to penetrate deep into the lungs and move into intercellular spaces.” More on the health impact of PM here.
  • Carbon Monoxide: a gas that binds to the hemoglobin protein in our red blood cells. This prevents the cell from ‘loading’ oxygen or carbon dioxide — essentially preventing respiration.
  • Unburned fuel: toxic compounds from gasoline that leak in the air, either through evaporation or due to incomplete combustion in the engine. Several of these compounds are probable carcinogens and are known irritants for eyes, skin, and the respiratory tract.

To give you an idea of the levels of exposure involved here, the study explains that landscape workers running a leaf blower are exposed to ten times more ultra-fine particles than someone standing next to a busy road.

Additionally, these tools are important sources of smog-forming compounds. It’s not a serious issue right now, but as more people buy and use leaf blowers, lawnmowers, and other small gas-powered engines, these are expected to overtake cars as the leading cause of smog in the United States.

What to do about it

Well, the easiest option is to use a rake — or just leave the leaves where they are, which is healthier for the environment.

But leaf blowers didn’t get to where they are today because people like to rake. Electrical versions, either corded or battery-powered, would address the air quality and virtually all of the noise concerns (albeit in exchange for less power).

While government regulation might help with emission levels, noise concerns might best be dealt with using more social approaches. Establishing neighborhood-wide leaf blowing intervals, or limiting the activity to a single day per week, would help make our lives a little better. As an added benefit, this would also help people feel that their concerns are being heard, and foster a sense of community.

Cat paying attention.

Paying attention shuts down ‘brain noise’ that isn’t related to what we’re looking for

New research sheds light into what our brains do as we try to pay attention to something.

Cat paying attention.

It seems that the price for paying attention is missing the big picture.
Image via Pixabay.

Attention has long been believed to function by turning down brain ‘noise’ — in other words, it amplifies the activity of some neurons while suppressing others. A new study comes to confirm this view by showing how too much background brain noise can interrupt focused attention and cause the brain to struggle to perceive objects.

Divert energy to attention circuits!

“This study informs us about how information is encoded in the electrical circuits in the brain,” says Salk Professor John Reynolds, senior author of the paper. “When a stimulus appears before us, this activates a population of neurons that are selective for that stimulus.”

“Layered on top of that stimulus-evoked response are large, low-frequency fluctuations in neural activity.”

It’s laughably easy to miss something you’re not looking for. You’re probably aware of the gorilla experiment / selective attention test (if not, here it is). In short, when most people were asked to pay attention to two groups of people — one in black clothes, the other in white clothes — passing a ball among them and count the number of times this ball passed from one group to the other, they became oblivious to a man dressed as a gorilla walking among the players.

More than just being funny, the experiment shows how our brains can ignore visual information when it isn’t relevant to a certain task we’re trying to perform. However, this process governing our perception and ability to pay attention to our surroundings is poorly understood. In an effort to patch this blind spot in our knowledge, the team set out to find whether background neural activity can interrupt focused attention, and cause our brains to struggle with perceiving certain objects.

Previous work from Reynolds’ lab found that when attention is directed upon a certain stimulus, low-frequency neural fluctuations (brain noise) is suppressed. The findings also suggested that not filtering out these fluctuations should impair our perception and ability to pay attention.

To find whether this is the case, the team used optogenetics — a technique that can activate or inactivate neurons by shining lasers onto light-activated proteins. They directed a low-frequency laser to the visual brain regions in animals in order to replicate brain noise. Then, they measured how this impacted the animals’ ability to detect a small change in the orientation of objects shown on a computer screen.

As predicted, the induced brain noise impaired the animals’ perception compared to controls. The team then repeated the experiment using a different laser-burst pattern to induce high-frequency fluctuations (a frequency that attention, as far as we know, doesn’t suppress). Consistent with their initial theory, this had no effect on the animals’ perception.

“This is the first time this theoretical idea that increased background noise can hurt perception has been tested,” says first and corresponding author Anirvan Nandy, assistant professor at the Yale University School of Medicine and former Salk researcher. “We’ve confirmed that attention does operate largely by suppressing this coordinated neuron firing activity.”

“This work opens a window into the neural code, and will become part of our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying perception. A deeper understanding of the neural language of perception will be critical in building visual prosthetics,” Reynolds adds.

The team plans to examine how different types of cells in the visual networks of the brain take part in this process. Hopefully, this will give us a better idea of the neurological processes that govern attention and perception.

The paper “Optogenetically induced low-frequency correlations impair perception” has been published in the journal eLife.

Loud noises are bad for your heart — and your cells

Loud noises are more than just annoying — they can affect you at a cellular level, a new study has revealed.

Image in public domain.

Much like air pollution, noise pollution also increases the risk of disease, but there’s still a lot of controversy around how it does so.

Plenty of anecdotal and empirical evidence has linked environmental noises to a series of health issues. More than simply disrupting our sleep and moments of relaxation, constant noises also seem to take a significant toll on our body.

Traffic noise, for instance, has been linked to an increase in the risk of heart disease, but no mechanism has been discovered that explains this increased incidence. Now, in a new review, scientists describe how that happens.

Thomas Munzel, lead author of the study, believes there is now plenty of evidence that noise makes you sick. After carrying out a review of previous studies, he and his team concluded that noise induces a stress response through the sympathetic nervous system — the system which activates the so-called fight or flight response. In turn, this increases hormone levels, which ultimately leads to vascular damage and several other metabolic abnormalities.

If this is the case, then it supports the idea that transportation noise contributes to the development of heart disease risk factors such as hypertension and diabetes. This was previously suggested in both animal and human studies.

However, this is still an open debate, as the effect of noise pollution is extremely difficult from other influences. For instance, people living next to noisy roads are also more exposed to noise pollution, but houses near such roads also tend to be cheaper, which means that, on average, the occupants of the houses have lower incomes and therefore might not be able to afford healthier foods. It’s a complex issue, but at least for now, increasing evidence seems to indicate that noise is indeed a cause of health concern.

The World Health Organization calls noise pollution “an underestimated threat” that can cause “sleep disturbance, cardiovascular effects, poorer work and school performance, hearing impairment.” The agency recommends less than 30 A-weighted decibels in the bedroom for a good night’s sleep.

Researchers also suggest that this is something policymakers should work towards fixing, as more and more of the population is exposed to transportation noise.

“As the percentage of the population exposed to detrimental levels of transportation noise are rising, new developments and legislation to reduce noise are important for public health,” Münzel concludes.

Journal Reference: Thomas Münzel, Frank P. Schmidt, Sebastian Steven, Johannes Herzog, Andreas Daiber and Mette Sørensen. Environmental Noise and the Cardiovascular System. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2017.12.015


Living near noisy traffic makes it harder for women to get pregnant


Credit: Pixabay.

Danish researchers say road traffic noise may affect the reproductive health of couples trying to have a baby. According to a recent paper published in Environment International, every 10 decibels (Db) of extra traffic noise around a woman’s home increased the chance the pregnancy took six months or longer by 5 to 8 percent.

The findings were reported by a team led by Jeppe Schultz Christensen of the Danish Cancer Society Research Center in Copenhagen who combed through data on 65,000 women living in Denmark. The participants were involved in the Danish National Birth Cohort which ran between 1996 and 2002. Christensen and colleagues selected all the women who tried to get pregnant during the project that also had traffic noise data available for where they lived.

Previously, a German prospective study found 80 percent of women who are actively seeking to get pregnant do so within six menstrual cycles. Oddly enough, though, if a Danish women lived near a noisy road, her chances of getting pregnant in the six months fell sharply. This link withstood even when factors like poverty levels or nitrogen oxide pollution were taken into account.

However, this association did not seem to be statistically significant anymore for women who took more than 12 months to get pregnant, likely because other factors are affecting fertility in this case.

It’s unclear at this point why noisy traffic might affect women, or couples for that matter, trying to have a baby. It may be that case that noisy streets near a woman’s home cause sleep disturbance which was previously linked to decreased fertility in women but also low-quality semen in men. Constant racket can also activate a system in the brain known to disrupt ovulation. If this is a real causal relationship at stake, we should be worried because noisy traffic is so common in virtually every town and city in the world. Moreover, traffic noise is set to increase as more cars are added to the roads, especially in developing countries. More work is needed before we can assess how worrying this trend may be but in the meantime, couples looking to have a baby should choose bedrooms as far away from the road as possible.

[NOW READ ABOUT] The noisiest and quietest places in America

Privacy Policy Keyboard.

Yesterday, US officials said you had no right to online privacy — we don’t agree so here’s Internet Noise to help you out

In the wake of yesterday’s decision by the House of Representatives to allow internet service providers to sell browsing data, one programmer is determined to make that data as worthless as possible — and he’s willing to share his work.

If you’re anything like me, when the House of Representatives decided yesterday that ISPs can sell your browsing data to basically anyone, you were positively furious. The word bull and something closely resembling the word “ship” rolled around in my head like a marble in a cup. I go to the Internet partly to work, partly to disconnect from the real world. And I like my privacy for both of those things.

Privacy Policy Keyboard.

“You can’t have it.” — bunch of US officials.

Harsh, I still want my privacy. I wanna browse pictures of cats in peace, then share a laugh over them without someone uninvited seeing any line of chat. I want to read NASA’s latest tidbits without the NSA (subtracting an A makes a huge difference) peering over my shoulder.

It’s my experience. It’s my little corner of the immaterial. I don’t want anyone to burst in on it. If I wanted to be under constant surveillance I’d fly to London. But I don’t, so I just Google-Map London and use the tiny yellow guy to see the sights.


That’s not how it works, though, and I know that. ISPs keep track of everything you do because they actually connect you to the disjointed bits and servers to create the seamless Internet we know and love. For the most part, they had to keep this data to themselves, so we had some modicum of privacy. That’s about to change for those of you living in the US, congrats, since that data is now up for grabs by anyone who can pay for it — and make no mistake, people will pay for it, profile you with it, and then try to sell you stuff according to that profile. Because capitalism.

I’m not a fan of that. Somehow it manages to have this 1984-meets-Brave New World vibe and I don’t want any of it, no siree. Paint me a barbarian but I’d rather not get a 10% discount on something I may actually want if it means a server somewhere is crunching my 3 AM alcohol-fueled-research of exotic cuisine on Wikipedia like so many 1’s and 0’s.

Luckily, there’s one brave soul out there who feels the same way I do but also has the skills to do something about it. His name is Dan Schultz, and he has the next-best-thing after Internet invisibility. Dan heard about the vote on Twitter somewhere around 1 AM, turned off Zelda and coded Internet Noise — a tool which will shotgun searches in your browser left and right, all in the name of foggifying your real searches in a deluge of random ‘noise’.

“I cannot function in civil society in 2017 without an internet connection, and I have to go through an ISP to do that,” he says.

Hiding in plain sight

Internet Noise acts like your run of the mill browser extension, but in truth, it’s just a website which will auto-open a bunch of random Google search tabs. The idea is that if you can’t keep an ISP from profiling you, you can at least give them a false image of yourself. It’s a pretty sad thing to need such a tool, and Schultz himself hopes that Noise will help people understand the risk their online privacy is under at this point.

It’s a pretty straightforward program. Schultz simply googled “top 4,000 nouns” and made a gibberish-list with all of them. With a click on “Make some Noise”, Internet Noise draws on the magic powering Google’s “I’m feeling lucky” button to search for those terms or permutations of them, opening five tabs of results. Ten seconds later, you get another five, then five more, and so on. It will keep going until you hit “STOP THE NOISE!”, by which point your browsing history should look like a potpourri of random links. Schultz says the best way to use it is to start the Noise when you call in for the night and stop it the next day.

Soon enough, you’ll start seeing some pretty random stuff popping up in your Facebook feed, for example. Stuff you won’t have the first clue as to what it is, and that that’s proof the Noise is working, muddying your Internet activity profile, causing algorithms to spew out all kinds of false positives.

Privacy keyboard.

Image credits g4ll4is / Flickr.

Still, it’s not a do-all-end-all program. Anyone slightly more competent than your average advertising company could probably pick out your searches from the noise with a decent success rate since they’re obviously random clicks that have little follow-through. With 4,000 terms and 16,000,000 two-word combinations of them to rifle through, it’s also really unlikely to visit a page once and astronomically unlikely to visit it three or more times. It’s a really random fog-maker and its activity doesn’t look human or plausible enough to be truly good at masking your activity. A smart enough algorithm can probably pick Noise apart in a few seconds. But not all algorithms are smart.

It might even get you into some more hardcore surveillance if the program searches add up to something which appears sketchy. Schultz obviously hasn’t been able to pedigree all the terms to see if any could land you in a spot of trouble — think “pipes”, “industrial fertilizers”, and  “do we really need the government” in one night. I’m exaggerating on that last one just to prove a point.

At the end of the day, though, Schiltz says the main point is to raise awareness. However, the project is open source and could evolve into a more complex program. People are already contributing, fixing minor bugs and some are suggesting possible improvements. But until more efficient privacy kits become available, your only real option is to learn as much as you can about what the tools you use can and can’t do and try to dodge the system as well as possible beyond what they offer.

But I do harbor hope. Internauts have never had much political traction, but they’ve never lacked for imagination, resourcefulness, and a brash commitment to stick it to the man when his ethics fall into question. The Noise might be feeble, but its offspring won’t.

If you missed it, here’s a link to Internet Noise:

[button url=”https://slifty.github.io/internet_noise/index.html” postid=”” style=”btn-danger” size=”btn-lg” target=”_self” fullwidth=”false”]Noise-me![/button]



Brain network that picks words from the background noise revealed

Scientists have identified the brain networks that help focus on one voice or conversation in a noisy room — known as the “cocktail party effect”. They hope that by emulating the way these areas work, modern voice recognition software can be made to function much more efficiently.


Image credits Gerd Altmann / Pixabay.

When you’re at a party, your brain allows you to tune in on a single conversation while lowering the volume of background noise, so to speak. Now, have you ever tried to give a voice command to a device in any type of noisy setting? If yes, you can probably understand why scientists would love to get their hand on a similar voice recognition system for our gadgets.

A new study might offer a way forward for such a technology. Neuroscientists led by Christopher Holdgraf from the University of California, Berkeley, recorded the brain activity of participants listening to a previously distorted sentence after they were told what it meant. The team worked with seven epilepsy patients who had electrodes placed on the surface of their brain to track seizures.

They played a very distorted recording of a sentence to each participant, which almost none of them was able to initially understand. An unaltered recording of the same sentence was played afterwards, followed by the garbled version once more.

“After hearing the intact sentence” the paper explains, the subjects understood the “noisy version” without any difficulty.

Brain recordings show that this moment of recognition coincided with patterns of activity in areas known to be involved in understanding sound and speech. When subjects listened to the garbled version, the team saw little activity in these areas, but hearing the clear sentence then caused their brains to light up.

This was the first time we saw the way our brains alter their response when listening to an understandable or garbled sound. When hearing the distorted phrase again, auditory and speech processing areas lit up and changed their pattern of activity over time, apparently tuning in to the words among the distortion.

“The brain actually changes the way it focuses on different parts of the sound,” explained the researchers.

“When patients heard the clear sentences first, the auditory cortex enhanced the speech signal.”

The team is now trying to expand on their findings and understand how the brain distinguishes between the background and the sounds we’re actually interested in hearing.

“We’re starting to look for more subtle or complex relationships between the brain activity and the sound,” Mr Holdgraf said.

“Rather than just looking at ‘up or down’, it’s looking at the details of how the brain activity changes across time, and how that activity relates to features in the sound.”

This, he added, gets closer to the mechanisms behind perception. If we understand how our brains filter out the noise, we can help people with speech and hearing impediments better hear the world around them. The team hopes to use the findings to develop a speech decoder — a brain implant to interpret people’s imagined speech — which could help those with certain neurodegenerative diseases that affect their ability to speak.

The full paper “Rapid tuning shifts in human auditory cortex enhance speech intelligibility” has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

noise map USA

Map of the United States’ quietest and noisiest places

Speaking at the 2015 AAAS Annual Meeting, US researchers showed a coloured map of the quietest regions in the United States, based on  1.5 million hours of acoustical monitoring from places as remote as Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and as urban as New York City. Apparently, the eastern half of the country is much more loud than the western half. The West coast seems to be an exception, but that’s not all that surprising considering LA and New York. Deep blue regions like the Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado are among the quietest in the country – here a background noise lower than 20 decibels is seen, very similar to that found in pre-colonial times, according to the researchers. The busy cities, however, are orders of magnitude louder, standing somewhere between  50 to 60 decibels.

noise map USA

Credit: AAAS 2015

Seems familiar? Well, take a look at the night light map.

Composite view of continental United States showing Suomi NPP observations of nighttime illumination. Image: NASA

Composite view of continental United States showing Suomi NPP observations of nighttime illumination. Image: NASA

By definition, noise pollution takes place when there is either excessive amount of noise or an unpleasant sound that causes temporary disruption in the natural balance. This definition is usually applicable to sounds or noises that are unnatural in either their volume or their production. Our environment is such that it has become difficult to escape noise. Even electrical appliances at home have a constant hum or beeping sound. It’s great to hear that there are still many places where you can experience primordial tranquility. You just have to leave the cities!

Concerning the noise map, biologists believe they’ll find it useful  to identify places where humanmade noise is affecting wildlife. Bats and owls, for instance, are particularly sensitive to noise pollution. These animals rely on their keen sense of hearing, which can be 20 decibels more sensitive than our own, to hunt low humming insects and rodents. If disrupted by background noise, they’d be unable to hunt, feed and survive.


Loud Music - Helps Your Brian Develop

Loud Music Can Stimulate Your Brain

Loud Music - Helps Your Brian Develop

Loud Music – Helps Your Brian Develop

 Music is LIFE

Music makes the world go round, but in recent years youngsters have been warned about listening to too much music at high volumes, advising that it may cause hearing loss in later life.

Contrary to this, research in the last few years into the positive reactions of listening to loud music has taken place, and offers an interesting flip-side to the debate.

Musical Beats & The Sacculus

Sacculus and MUSIC !!!

Manchester University conducted a particular study, and stated that listening to loud music stimulates part of the ear known as the sacculus, which responds in particular to musical beats. This pleasures the brain and makes you feel good during and after listening.

The sacculus seems only sensitive to very loud volumes – above 90 decibels, but is not thought to have any actual hearing function.

Neil Todd is an expert in the study of scientific music, and he stated that the sacculus seems to be part of a primitive hearing function that humans used to have, but has since been made redundant as we have evolved.

Psychologist Stuart Cadwallar headed a study in 2007 of over a thousand of the brightest students in England, and found that listening to music actually helped them alleviate the stress and pressure of academic studies and exam revising. The same people were more likely to frequent concerts and gigs of their favourite artists and bands. So remember this the next time your teenage daughter asks you for One Direction tickets or Justin Bieber Tickets loud concerts may well be helping developed there brain and be an aid to good studying. There you have it Pop Stars can actually be a good things, and be beneficial to your child academic studies.

Plants and Music

Plants Love Rock Music – FACT

It’s not just humans that get pleasure from blaring music, as it seems that plants can also display a beneficial reaction to music – heavy metal in particular!

A 2003 study from the National University of Singapore found that kidney bean seeds exposed to the music grew 60% faster than a control group. Further studies also found that plants grew taller and leafier when positioned near sources of loud music.

Loud but not Deafening

Of course you can go to far with volume an American mother recently tried to sue Canadian pop star Justin Bieber after she attended one his concerts, and suffered hearing loss as a result. Stacey Wilson Betts said she now suffers from tinnitus as a result of being exposed to high volumes and deafening screams at the concert, stating that the gondola she was standing in: acted as a sound conductor, creating a sound blast that permanently damaged both of my ears.” 

It would seem that moderation is the key loud music can stimulate and bring about a greater alertness and mental awareness but don’t go so loud that your ear drums will burst!

Captioned: Satan

The world’s most annoying sound: whining

Captioned: Satan

Captioned: Satan

Ghastly nails on a blackboard or deafening sires don’t come any close to a infant’s whining as far as annoying sounds are concerned, according to a recent study from SUNY New Paltz.

In a fairly simple approach, researchers asked study participants to solve various math problems while a background noise was playing. Six sounds were chosen, namely screeching saw on wood, machine noise, a baby crying, the always annoying adult mimicking baby talk and, of course, whining, for a whole minute each. The highest scores were received by noises which lead to the most errors in computations.

Interestingly enough, the whining sound was voiced by an adult actor.

Subjects chosen for the study were both male and female, parents and non-parents. The results were posted in the The results, published in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology, where they researchers concluded that “you are basically doing less work and doing it worse” when listening to whines.

Speaking to MSNBC, Rosemarie Sokol Chang, a psychologist involved in the study, said: “It’s telling you to tune in. Nobody wants to sit around and listen to a fire engine siren either, but if you hear the siren go off, it gets your attention. It has to be annoying like that, and it’s the same with the whine.”

Ignoring the noise won’t help one bit, either. Researchers say that only makes it worse.

What’s the most annoying sound in the world for you guys?

via Wired