Hearing management

Updated 22 September 2017

LISTEN: Why these 10 sounds are so annoying

Is the noise from the construction site down the road driving you bonkers? Relax, you're not alone.

Do you remember the Health24 quiz where you had to choose your most annoying sound? It clearly established that you are not alone, and that it's quite common for people to get annoyed by certain sounds.

But have you ever wondered why you feel so irritated, even irrationally victimised by certain sounds?

Science has proven that some sounds have a strong effect on the brain that can cause enormous irritation.

Different areas of the brain

Researchers found that the amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates your emotions, takes over from the section of the brain that regulates hearing when people hear sounds that annoy them.

This phenomenon is known as misophonia, a chronic condition whereby particular sounds, specifically those produced by another person, trigger anger, impulsive reactions and a number of other responses.

According to a paper published in the journal Hearing Research, acoustic experiences such as sound, noise, or the absence thereof will primarily affect the central auditory system in the brain, but can also affect limbic regions such as the amygdala and hippocampus, which are responsible for emotions. The amygdala is particularly sensitive to sounds like vocalisations, crying or music. 

Researchers at the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, also found that the interaction between the amygdala and the auditory system is like a primitive distress signal, which can have a profound effect on our emotions and elicit a strong response.

The diagram below shows roughly where the amygdala and auditory centre are situated in the brain. These two parts cause our irritation when it comes to certain sounds.

But, enough science for now! Let's have some fun. Which of the sounds below do you find most annoying?

1. A crying baby

Little humans are adorable. But even the most devoted parents can be driven crazy by this sound.

2. Chalk on a blackboard

We don't know if it reminds us of our school days, or whether it's because of the powdery texture of the chalk. All we know is that it makes us feel icky.

3. A dentist's drill

It reminds us of to a trip to the dentist. Enough said...

4. An angle grinder

Whether your office is situated near a construction site, or your neighbour is doing a bit of DIY on a peaceful weekend morning, we are sure you can identify with the level of irritation that comes with this sound.

5. A mosquito

Summer nights are so often ruined by these critters. 

6. Sirens

They signal distress and literally cause a feeling of distress in our brains. No wonder we feel so frantic when we hear emergency vehicles in the traffic.

7. Alarm clock

We all dread this sound on weekday mornings, especially when it feels like we only slept for two hours.

8. Snoring

If you have a partner who is guilty of this you will understand the irritation. Especially when you're trying to get some much-needed shuteye! 

9. Sniffing or loud breathing

In a previous Health24 article, this one was voted one of the top annoying sounds. So next time you're ready to throw a box of tissues at your sniffing colleague, be assured it's a very common reaction.

10. Loud chewing 

And so we come to the ultimate annoying sound, according to a previous poll. Whether it's someone chewing chips or carrot sticks or loudly gulping down their tea, most of us share this reaction.

Image and sound credits: iStock and Soundwave


Ask the Expert

Hearing Expert

Minette Lister graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Pathology (Audiology) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville in 2015. Thereafter, she completed her compulsory year of community service at Phoenix Assessment and Therapy Centre in Durban. In 2017, Minette started working for Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. She is passionate about working with children and adults to diagnose and manage hearing loss using state of the art technology. Minette offers hearing screening programmes for newborn and high-risk babies, as well as school-aged children, in order to decrease the incidence of late or unidentified hearing loss.

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