Sounds that annoy us: why it happens

People are annoyed by different sounds. Someone can not stand chomping or noisy breathing, someone - snoring, crunching fingers or creaking foam. However, some sounds are not just annoying, but also cause these strong emotional reactions - anger, anger, fear, disgust.

How we perceive sound has several causes - evolutionary, physiological, and cultural. Let's try to figure it all out below.

Photo by Dennis Skley / CC BY


Studies have shown that people perceive sounds of a certain frequency as unpleasant. The human ear is especially susceptible to sounds in the range from 2,000 to 5,000 Hz. In this interval there are many sounds from which many feel uneasy - creaking foam, scratching a knife on a plate, screams.

The way we perceive sounds in this range is built into us by evolution thousands of years ago. The hearing aid helped to detect the danger much faster than other senses, so the person is still subconsciously sensitive to the sounds that remind the cries of predators or the creak of their claws. The unpleasant sensations that we are experiencing now, and the desire to hide - is the instinct of self-preservation laid down in the primitive man. We did not get rid of it because man as a species ceased to depend on living nature quite recently - from the point of view of evolution.


Hyperacusia is a disorder of the hearing system, due to which sounds cause a disproportionate reaction of perception, they feel painful, louder and more unpleasant than they really are. At the same time, the sounds themselves need not be too loud, unpleasant or annoying.

Hyperacusia may be a symptom of a serious neurological disease. In addition, it can cause some diseases of the inner ear, head injuries, infections, tumors.


Hyperacusia is a disease of the organs of our body that affects the perception of sounds. Another disorder that changes attitudes towards certain sounds is misophony , a neurological disease.

Misophony is sometimes called selective sound sensitivity. For people suffering from this disorder, for example, scratching nails on glass causes not just irritation, but also a whole range of reactions - from anxiety to a flash of rage or panic attack. The name of the disorder literally translates as "hatred of sounds."

In general, this disease is still little studied, so there are many hypotheses about its origin and treatment. Misophony can be a reaction to a previous (negative) experience associated with certain sounds. In this case, the trigger sounds can cause a completely disproportionate reaction: the sound of chewing - a flash of rage, the cry of a child - panic, and so on. Misophony can be one of the signs of post-traumatic neurosis, about a real source and causes of which a person could have already forgotten.

Misophony can also be a sign of a larger disease — for example, there are studies whose authors attempted to associate misophony with obsessive-compulsive disorders or even describe it as a type of OCD.

Another interesting hypothesis describes misophony as an anomaly of the brain, the result of atypical connections between the auditory cortex, which processes sound, and the limbic system, which is responsible, in particular, for the formation of emotions.

To test this theory, a sample of people with misophony offered to listen to various sounds: neutral, for example, the sound of rain, generally unpleasant (screams), and sounds that experiment participants found unpleasant (the crunch of the package, the roar of a subway car, etc.). During the experiment, tomograms of the brain were taken.

The study showed that in people with misophony, the islet lobe of the cerebral cortex, which (including) provides an interaction between physical sensations and emotions, works differently. Sounds-triggers cause "overload" - too strong emotional reaction. According to this theory, misophony can be inherited.

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Unpleasant sounds are also an interesting cultural phenomenon.

For example, a sound that is annoying in everyday life can cause a completely different reaction in an experimental jazz composition or at a concert of modern academic music.

Similar studies were also. Two groups of subjects were given to listen to the same sounds of chalk creaking on a blackboard. The first group was told what kind of sounds they were, and the second group was told that this was part of a musical composition. The physiological reactions to the sounds were the same, but the assessment heard by the subjects themselves was different - those who allegedly listened to music, rated the experience higher.

Noise ” is one of the genres of industrial music and a frequent guest in other musical genres. Noise is an undesirable and unpleasant sound by definition. Therefore, the noise in music is at the same time a legacy of the industrial revolution, and a cultural challenge, and a “clean sound”, proto sounds that exist outside the limits of “academic” harmonics.

And do you get annoyed by some “ordinary”, “everyday” sounds? Or, perhaps, you, on the contrary, are completely indifferent to the creaking of the foam or scratching chalk on the board?

Share with us in the comments!

PS: Our latest selection of “ Hi-Fi World ” - software, hardware, headphones, amplifiers and “practice only”: 30 materials with recommendations for “audio lovers” .


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