The degree to which one is disturbed by the noises of everyday life may be related to how the brain processes variations in the sound stream, according to new findings published in the December 15, 2016 online edition of Scientific Reports, a publication of Nature. The condition that was investigated in the new research study is called “Noise Sensitivity (NS).”
According to an announcement about the research, noise sensitive individuals seem to be more susceptible than non-sensitive individuals to the adverse effects of “noise” such as sleep disturbance, impaired cognitive performance, and cardiovascular disease. In other words, some people experience strong discomfort in response to the sounds around them and complain that they suffer from “noise.” Previous studies have shown that noise sensitive individuals are more prone to the negative effects of noise on their health, and that sensitivity may be rooted in their genetic profile.
In the newly published work, “A window into the brain mechanisms associated with noise sensitivity,” researchers from the University of Helsinki and Aarhus University addressed whether noise sensitivity is manifested in the way the brain processes sounds. They showed that the auditory systems of noise sensitive individuals are less responsive to new sound features introduced among repetitive sounds, especially if the novel sound is noisier than others. This finding suggests that it may be harder for noise sensitive people to “predict” changes in a varying soundscape, and their auditory systems might “tune down” responsiveness to sounds in order to protect against overreacting to noise.
The researchers say they need further studies to determine if they have discovered the underlying reason why people are noise sensitive to begin with, or if they have discovered the result of the brain’s contractions or adaptations against excessive noise. Nevertheless, this study advances the view on noise sensitivity being more than just a negative attitude to sounds and brings new information on the physiological aspect of environmental noise sensitivity.
This study crosses disciplines between brain science and occupational healthcare, and the researchers hope that their work will highlight that noise sensitivity is an important issue that should be recognized when planning for noise control in living and working environments. The work was completed at the Cognitive Brain Research Unit (CBRU) of University of Helsinki in Finland, in collaboration with University of Helsinki’s Department of Public Health and CICERO Learning network, BioMag Laboratory, and Center for Music in the Brain at Aarhus University in Denmark. For details about the study, read the published study article.
For more information about studies in Noise Sensitivity and Misophonia (hatred of sound), read these Hearing Review articles.
Source: University of Helsinki; Aarhus University; Nature, Scientific Reports