Doth Thy Sonically Offend?


From the Muni Diaries submission inbox:

Does this look like a guy who’d be blaring his music on the 21-Hayes? If you think no, you’d be right. I was sitting three seats cattycorner to the man, and I didn’t even know he had earplugs on. But the guy across from him (picture not shown) quietly sidled up and asked him to turn down his tunes. Totally astounded, the pseudo non-offender replied “really?” and subsequently dialed down the volume.

One stop later, two very loud gentlemen got on the bus and talked in decibels loud enough to make a deaf man flinch. Did the sound-sensitive guy ask these two to turn down their pitch? Nope.

Which got me wondering: How do we physically perceive the difference between electronic noise and human noise? Both can be offensive and settling in their own ways.

According to Nature Reviews Neuroscience, noise (as a broad term) has direct behavioral consequences, from affecting our perception to our actual movements. Noise affects our central nervous system, which sends a cascade of chemical and neurological events throughout the body. Depending on the type of stimulus, our brains fluctuate efficiency levels.

For example, say someone is blaring hip-hop music on his phone. The noise might be disturbing enough — and it is to me — where my brain can’t process other tasks like reading. On the other hand, a different noise — such as rain falling or two old guys discussing the weather (always one of my faves) — might be discrete enough so my brain can continue to work efficiently and maybe even more so. It all depends on how we individually interpret and handle noise.

Duh. It all comes down to the individual. But at least we have scientific proof to back this up. And I always like to be reminded that what offends me might not offend someone else. Does it mean that I’ll ask Mr. Nice Guy to turn down his iPod next time? Probably not. But I’ll turn mine down if asked.


By the way, if you’d like to read about Noise in the nervous system, there are some super cool pics on the behavioral loop of noise.

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