Tag Archives: sounds

People underestimate how much anxiety household sounds can produce for dogs

There are more sounds that can make your dog anxious in your home than you assumed, a new paper reports.

Image credits Susanne Pälmer.

Research at the University of California, Davis, has examined the potential of common household noises to make dogs anxious. Although it’s common knowledge that sudden, loud noises — fireworks or thunderstorms, for example — can easily trigger anxiety in man’s best friend, the results point to a much wider range of sounds our dogs might become frightened by.

But an arguably more important finding is that most owners can’t reliably pick up on the hallmark signs that their dog is anxious.


“We know that there are a lot of dogs that have noise sensitivities, but we underestimate their fearfulness to noise we consider normal because many dog owners can’t read body language,” said lead author Emma Grigg, a research associate and lecturer at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

According to the findings, even common noises such as a microwave, a vacuum cleaner during operation, or the battery warning of a smoke detector can trigger a dog’s anxiety. As a rule of thumb, high-frequency intermittent noises are more likely to make your dog anxious than continuous, low-frequency ones.

Some of the most common signs of a dog’s anxiety include cringing, trembling, or retreating. These are the ones most people can reliably pick up on, quite understandably so, as they mimic our own anxiety responses. But other behaviors can be more subtle and easily missed. These include panting, the turning of the head away, or a stiffening of the body. Other signs are a turning back of their ears or lowering of the head below their shoulders.

Gigg says it’s important for dog owners to learn about the anxiety-related behavior that dogs exhibit so that they can better understand and help their pets.

The data for this study was collected as part of a survey of 386 dog owners about their animals’ responses to a range of household sounds. The authors also examined the dogs’ behaviors and the reactions of their owners. This revealed that people both underestimate the anxiousness of their dogs, with a majority of those appearing in the videos actually responding with amusement to their displays of anxiety.

“There is a mismatch between owners’ perceptions of the fearfulness and the amount of fearful behavior actually present. Some react with amusement rather than concern,” Grigg said. “We hope this study gets people to think about the sources of sound that might be causing their dog stress, so they can take steps to minimize their dog’s exposure to it.”

Since dogs can perceive sounds from a broader spectrum than humans, it is possible that something which seems innocuous to us is quite painful to their ears — very loud or high-pitched sounds being some examples. Grigg says that any steps taken to prevent such noises, for example changing the batteries in your smoke detectors more often, can help improve your dog’s quality of life tremendously.

“Dogs use body language much more than vocalizing and we need to be aware of that,” said Grigg. “We feed them, house them, love them and we have a caretaker obligation to respond better to their anxiety.”

The paper “Stress-Related Behaviors in Companion Dogs Exposed to Common Household Noises, and Owners’ Interpretations of Their Dogs’ Behaviors” has been published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science.

Scientists believe they’ve identified the source of the mysterious sound coming from the Mariana Trench

The first audio recordings from the Mariana Trench, the world’s deepest point, are creepy as hell.

Deep-sea rover exploring the Mariana Trench. Credit: NOAA

Among the sounds captured by an autonomous vehicle, an eerie 3.5 segment was especially mysterious, and it was captured several times from autumn 2014 to spring 2015. In other words, scientists couldn’t figure out where it was coming from – or what made it. After months of analysis, they might finally have the answer: a whale signal, unlike any other we’ve heard before.

“It’s very distinct, with all these crazy parts,” says one of the team, Sharon Nieukirk from Oregon State University. “The low-frequency moaning part is typical of baleen whales, and it’s that kind of twangy sound that makes it really unique. We don’t find many new baleen whale calls.”

The sound spans frequencies as low as 38 hertz and as high as 8,000 hertz – humans can hear between 20 and 20,000 Hz, so it’s within audible range, and it covers a very broad frequency. Because sound waves travel great distances in water, the source can be kilometers away so it could be almost anything. Without knowing where to start, they began to eliminate possible sources. Firstly, they eliminated man-made sounds.

“The sounds reported here are not similar to known anthropogenic sources such as noise produced by ships or seismic airguns,” the team reports.

Visual representation of the recording, showing five distinct parts. Credit: S. L. Nieukirk et al.

Then, they moved on to geological sounds but again, nothing fit the sound profile, and in the end, all they were left with was a biological source – a whale.

“They also do not resemble geophysical sources such as the very low-frequency sounds produced by earthquakes and ice, nor the sounds produced by wind or rain. … [We] hypothesise that these complex sounds were produced by a biological source.”

Although these sounds are absolutely unique in recorded history, Nieukirk found an equally bizarre recording from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, coming from dwarf minke whale – the so-called Star Wars minke call. Although different, the minke whale call had some similarities to the Mariana Trench one, in terms of frequency and structure.

“The complex structure of the Western Pacific Biotwang sound, the frequency sweep, and the metallic nature of the final part of this call are all very similar to characteristics of dwarf minke whale Star Wars calls,” the team concludes.

But even if this is a call from minke whales, the big question still remains: what kind of a call is it? The first option would be a mating call, but mating calls are seasonal, and this sound was heard constantly.

“If it’s a mating call, why are we getting it year round? That’s a mystery,” says Nieukirk. “We need to determine how often the call occurs in summer versus winter, and how widely this call is really distributed.”

If it’s something else… then again – what could it be? In the end, as Nieukirk says, good science will explain it.

“It really is an amazing, weird sound, and good science will explain it,” says Nieukirk.

Journal Reference: Sharon L. Nieukirka, Selene Fregosi, David K. Mellinger, and Holger Klinck. A complex baleen whale call recorded in the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America > Volume 140, Issue 3 > 10.1121/1.4962377

No matter what your native language is – we all speak the same, study finds

A new study has found an unexpected link between languages — all over the world, the sounds we use to form words for common objects and ideas are surprisingly similar. Could we all, in fact, be talking the same language?

language stays with us

Credit: Radboud University.

One of the core principles of linguistics is that languages appeared and evolved independently of each other.  Language, in other words, is a creation of the people speaking it. This would mean that the sounds that we use to create words have no sense in themselves, but serve to create something with meaning — just like a bunch of shapeless rocks have no purpose until you mortar them together to make a wall.

But what if those rocks weren’t so shapeless after all? A new study performed by a team including physicists, linguists, and computer scientists from the US, Argentina, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland analyzed 40-100 basic vocabulary words in around 3,700 languages – approximately 62 per cent of the world’s current languages. They found that humans use surprisingly similar sounds to form the words for basic concepts such as body parts, family relationships or parts of the natural world. This would suggest that concepts fundamental to human life instinctively evoke the same verbalizations from all of us.

“These sound symbolic patterns show up again and again across the world, independent of the geographical dispersal of humans and independent of language lineage,” said Dr Morten Christiansen, professor of psychology and director of Cornell’s Cognitive Neuroscience Lab in the US where the study was carried out.

“There does seem to be something about the human condition that leads to these patterns. We don’t know what it is, but we know it’s there.”

The team found that in most languages, the word for nose was likely to include the group “neh” of the “oo” sound (as in coop.) The word for sand was likely to include the sound “s” and “leaf” the “l,” “p” or “b” sounds. The words for ‘red’ and ‘round’ were likely to include the ‘r’ sound, they found.

Other words were likely to share sound groups across languages, including bite, dog, fish, skin, water, and star. For words describing parts of the body, such as knee or breast, these associations were even stronger.

“It doesn’t mean all words have these sounds, but the relationship is much stronger than we’d expect by chance,” added Dr Christiansen.

There are also negative associations — meaning that there are sounds or groups of sounds that words for the same objects or concepts avoid across languages. This was most evident with pronouns, with the words for first person singular, I, unlikely to include the sounds u, p, b, t, s, r and L. ‘You’ is unlikely to include sounds involving u, o, p, t, d, q, s, r and L.

The study, however, doesn’t address the question of why this happens. So we have no explanation why humans seem compelled to use the same sounds for basic objects or ideas, but of course, the scientists have a few theories. Dr Christian believes that because these concepts are important in all languages, so children are likely to learn these words early in life.

“Perhaps these signals help nudge kids into acquiring language,” he added: “Maybe it has something to do with the human mind or brain, our ways of interacting, or signals we use when we learn or process language. That’s a key question for future research.”

And other studies seem to back the idea of sound-object associations underlying language. They found, for example, that regardless the language, words for small spiky objects are likely to contain high-pitched sounds, while rounder shapes contain ‘ooo’ sounds, now known as the ‘bouba/kiki’ effect.

There’s also the possibility that some words share sounds across languages because they’re the first tentative vocalizations babies make — so ma, ma, and da, da, become mama and daddy.

“You could argue that the words chosen here are very old and therefore most likely to have a common ancestor language in the past, from which they all derived,” said Dr Lynne Cahill, a lecturer in English Language and Linguistics at the University of Sussex

“I think this is an interesting study which has looked at so many languages but I don’t think it quite justifies their claim that it debunks the idea that language is arbitrary and I think they looked at too few words to make any firm conclusions.”

The full paper “Sound–meaning association biases evidenced across thousands of languages” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

NASA posted a dazzling library of space sounds – and you’re free to use them

Apollo 11: Eagle Has Landed

NASA’s mission to better understand the Universe around us resulted not only in text, images and video, but also in a huge number of sounds. The space agency posted rocket sounds, the chirps of satellites and equipment, lightning on Jupiter, interstellar plasma and radio emissions and of course, famous vocal clips (“The Eagle has landed”).

You can hear the roar of a rocket or Neil Armstrong’s first words when he landed on the Moon – every time you get a phone call. If you’re a musician, then you’re in even more luck because NASA made all these sounds public domain, which means that you can record and incorporate them in art projects of your choice.

There are some restrictions – not everything NASA publishes is covered by the same license, though it appears to be on SoundCloud. You are also not allowed to use their logo, image, or imply in any way that NASA is supporting you.

Not one to be easily outdone, their European counterpart, the European Space Agency (ESA) posted their own library. It’s still a work in progress, but there are already some spectacular additions (you’ll probably want to hear the Sound of the Sun).

You can listen to many more of NASA’s emblematic sounds on their page, and we’ve made a small selection for you: