How does sound affect us? This is a broad question that I doubt many of us have asked ourselves, but perhaps we should be asking ourselves more often? Of course, the spectrum of ‘sound’ is a huge umbrella term.
After all, even speaking to another person requires us to create a sound which we then use to communicate our thoughts and feelings. There’s music out there that can make us laugh and cry. We can fall in love with music, and we can hate it.
We can hear a gunshot, and it makes us feel scared, or we can hear raining on the windows to make us feel calm. Already, we’re exploring a vast number of ways that sound affects us as human beings, but how deep does this go?
More importantly, how can we use this knowledge to better ourselves in our own lives, and what new places can this information take us in our everyday lives? Today, we’re going to dive very deeply into the depths of sound, and what it does to us as humans.
Sound & Water
Let’s start with some basic science. Around 70% of the human body is made of water. Naturally, water is an excellent conductor of sound, so it’s only fair that our bodies are amazing conductors of sound. With this in mind, we can already see that it’s going to affect us in some ways.
Hearing is one is one of the most basic of senses that all animals have. While some animals can’t smell, or can’t see very well, hearing is a universal sense that all sentient beings have. That’s everything from bats to cats. Even though fish don’t have ears, they can sense vibrations in the water, translating them into signals they can understand.
In short, sound is a warning system of a being. It helps us to know whether we’re safe, or whether we’re in danger. If you’re roaming through a forest at night and you hear a twig snap, immediately your body is going to go into survival mode.
It then goes without saying that sound has a very strong physical effect on us. If you hear the twig snap, your body will release cortisol, the stress hormone. This, in turn, raises your heartbeat and increases your breathing. Your body is taking in more oxygen, priming your body for an event that it needs to run or fight.
Of course, on the other hand, your brain also remembers certain sounds. For example, an abstract sound like a mug breaking on the ground isn’t going to scare you, but it will still make your senses heighten while your brain processes it.
If you’ve ever been in a nightclub or at a concert, you’ll already know how nearly impossible it is not to dance to the music you’re listening to, even if you’re only tapping your feet. Even using this brief example, it’s safe to say that sound can affect us in a cognitive way.
As we said before, if you hear a gunshot from close range, your automatic instinct is to duck and distance yourself from the origin of the sound or protect your life. If you’re trying to concentrate at work, the most distracting sound you can listen to is another human voice.
This is because our minds are trained to listen in on these voices, due to the fact we’re social animals, and our survival may depend on it. If you’re listening to loud music while you’re trying to concentrate on something, however, it will be basically impossible to do so.
This is because the volume of sound can sometimes be so loud that it’ll block out our internal voice, which is where the saying ‘drowning out your thoughts’ has its origins. Sometimes, you can find a nice balance.
If you’re in the gym, say you’re running or in a spin class, choosing the right type of music can provide with you a beat that can help you maintain a certain speed or pace. This can help you to remain level and in time, rather than just guess working it.
This is a great way to boost your productivity because you’re using music as a tool where you no longer have to think about what you’re doing, you can simply focus on the music to set the pace, whereas you can then focus on other areas of your workout.
While sound has a huge effect on our bodies from a physical standpoint, it also affects our brains and our consciousness on a psychological level. As we said in the introduction, you can listen to music that can make your brain feel a certain way or can trigger certain feelings.
When a parent hears their baby crying, this will trigger parental instincts to kick in and tend to the baby. If you hear birdsong while out in nature, this can make you feel calm and peaceful. These are all effects that have been hardwired into our conscious and unconscious neural states. After all, birds and crying babies have been part of human society for thousands of years.
There are also countless human-made sounds that have the same effect. Take the Tibetan Singing Bowl for example. These instruments have also existed for thousands of years and were used to heal the beings of tribes and communities due to their beneficially calming nature.
If you’re at work or you’re studying, listening to ambient or classical music has been proven over and over again to boost productivity. This is because it has the ability to drown out any distractions you may be witness to but is also mellow enough not to distract you itself.
Using Sound as a Tool
Already we’ve explored a wealth of different ways that sound can affect a human being. It’s actually insane to think about how many possibilities there are here, and this article only scratches the surface. From now on, you can go about your day and pinpoint how different sounds affect you.
By the way, linking back to what we said about loud noises triggering the flight or fight response, if you choose a loud and aggressive alarm, this can be extremely bad for your health. Starting your more amped up on stress hormone is not the best start to your day.
But how can you use this newfound awareness of sound like a tool?
Well, firstly you can use the examples we’ve listed above as, if you’re going to the gym, studying or working, or simply relaxing at home, you can use music to enhance these processes. Fortunately, if you don’t know where to start, there is a ton of content online that can help you find what’s perfect for you.
However, are there any interesting ways you can use sound to affect you?
Taking Things to the Next Level
There are many ways you can use sound not only to affect you but actually to enhance your life. Take Lucid Dreaming for example. If you don’t know what lucid dreaming is, then you’re in for a treat.
In basic terms, lucid dreaming is the ability to be conscious while you’re dreaming. If you’ve ever been in a dream where you’ve had some kind of control, or you’re able to move around your dream freely and make decisions within your dream, this is a lucid dream.
The purpose of a lucid dream is simple. You can explore a reality inside your head which could, in the real world, be completely impossible. You could use this to help sort out problems in your life, to find new ideas, to address issues in your mind, or even for creative inspiration.
While achieving a ‘lucid’ state takes practice and dedication, it’s just like any other skill in life, and you’ll get there in the end if you turn it into a habit. For example, you can ask yourself throughout the day the question ‘Am I awake?’
If you do this regularly enough, you’ll repeat the question in your dream, in which case you can answer no, thus helping you step towards a lucid state. If you wake up in the middle of the night and remember the dream you were just having, perhaps by setting an alarm, you can fall back to sleep remembering the dream.
This is another way to help you fall into that lucid dreaming state. However, while these techniques take time to learn and familiarize yourself with, sound could also help. For people who attempt lucid dreaming, the type of audio you want to listen to is known as ‘binaural audio.’
These are simplistic tracks that you’ll wear headphones to listen to. In one ear you’ll hear one continuous tone, whereas you’ll hear something similar in the other ear, yet the frequency will be ever so slightly higher or lower.
While you may not notice the difference, your brain will, but it will be unable to know what the difference is. This is a great way to keep your mind slightly conscious as you fall asleep, ultimately helping you to achieve a lucid state.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways that sound can affect us on so many different levels of our human psyche. With the knowledge of how sound works, you can start to achieve amazing things in your life, or you can simply sit back, load up your favorite playlist, and enjoy!