The Way Sound Affects Us

Have you ever walked past a store with thumping music, so loud that it vibrates your eardrums while you are still on the sidewalk? We all love to listen to music, some of us with the volume set to 10, but are you actually enticed to go into the store?

9 times out of 10, a person who could be a potential customer simply walks away because of the music inside.  If you've ever asked yourself why we psychologically gravitate toward pleasant sounds while avoiding the unpleasant noise around us, look no further than Julian Treasure.  Treasure chairs the Sound Agency, a company that advises big businesses on how to harness the power of sound.

Our world is a noisy place, whether you are listening to construction on your way to work or relaxing at the beach with gulls flying overhead.  For the most part, people have learned to tune out the sounds that surround us, but unconsciously we always have a reaction to the noise in our environment.  Treasure's business focuses on the human response to sound.  How we react to noise, no matter if it is pleasant or annoying, is hard wired into our consciousness.  If you were to play the sound of crickets or birds singing, your response is most likely going to be relaxation.  When you hear footsteps behind you or the sound of a chain saw, your first instinct is going to be to run away!  Treasures theorizes that unpleasant sounds, especially those that invoke fear, can induce a physiological response that will bring on hormone secretions, raise your heart beat, and alter your breathing.

Yet another way that we react to sound is shown in our psychological response to music.  We've all been to concerts that have really moved us, or listened to a song on the radio that takes us away to another time and place.  Music is a powerful force in this way.  For example, if you associate a certain song with a sad period in your life and it plays on the radio unexpectedly after you haven't heard it in 10 years?  You will be transported back to that time, and in some cases the emotional connection is so strong you can practically see and smell things that are long gone.

A third way that Treasure feels that sound effects us is cognitively.  He advocates individual offices for employees that would normally work in an open floor plan with cubicles.  The sounds of others working, talking, and carrying on with their business can be so distracting that productivity drops significantly.  Treasures' advice? If you can't work in an individual, quiet office, bring headphones to minimize outside disturbances.

The last way that sound affects us is behaviorally.  Treasure states that we naturally move away from annoying noises to an environment of more satisfactory noises.  If we are in a room in our house where we can really hear the traffic from the street, our response may be to never try to work, read, or sleep in that room.  Some can 'tune out' outside noises to the point that they can avoid distractions anywhere, but it's a rare person who can minimize all outside sound.

Our four responses to sound work not only individually, but in a business environment as well.  Treasure recognizes the intrinsic value to developing a conscious awareness of the sounds around us, and works with companies to bring their customers to that level.  According to Julian Treasure, being aware of what surrounds us is the first step to good health and even better productivity.