Mary Ellen EaganPresident & CEO
As President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of HMMH, Mary Ellen is responsible for providing strategic, innovative leadership…
I had an “NPR moment” the other day, but it was not the kind they advertise on pledge drives. This story about Why Nails on a Chalkboard Drive Us Crazy had me sticking my fingers in my ears in a way I hadn’t since high school. Not good when you’re driving (so I’ll caution you, too, before you click through to be sure you have hands free).
The team of German and Austrian researchers, Michael Öhler of the Macromedia University for Media and Communication in Cologne and Christoph Reuter from the University of Vienna, first picked out two sounds they determined were the most annoying to people: scratching fingernails on a chalkboard and squealing chalk on a slate. They then played the sounds to a group of volunteers, half of whom were told their real origin and the other half who believed they came from contemporary music. The researchers found that people who believed the sounds were art rated them as less grating than those who knew where they really came from, suggesting a psychological component to people’s annoyance.
But they also found that the research subjects had clear physiological reactions to the noises, such as increased heart rate, sweating and blood pressure regardless of their beliefs of the sounds’ origin. This is apparently the consequence of the frequency of the sounds, between 2,000 and 4,000 hertz, which hits the frequency range over which the human ear is considered to be most sensitive because of the anatomy of the ear canal, the scientists said.
I’m blogging about it because it makes two points that are relevant to human reaction to transportation noise: frequency and attitude.
Fortunately, in the case of both chalkboards and aircraft noise, technology has evolved significantly in the last 30 years, so that the need to stick our fingers in our ears is much less.