The Physiological Effects of Music and Noise on the Human Body
“What is that noise?” is the refrain of every generation when listening to a younger generation’s music. Sound familiar? Does the music your children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews listen to sound like nothing more than fingernails on a chalkboard? It’s an interesting phenomenon: what is music to some is noise to others.
If you research “music and noise,” you will find one common theme: music is a type of noise that is orderly. Music has harmony and patterns that are recognizable to the ear. It has wavelengths and frequencies that are exciting, emotional, and soothing. On the other hand, sounds that are irregular and have wavelengths that abruptly change are considered noise by the listener whether they are generated by music, a construction site, a vacuum cleaner, or a baby’s cry.
Differencebetween.com1 makes some other interesting observations about the differences between music and noise:
- Music is what is soothing and relaxing while noise is a sound that is harsh, annoying or irritating
- Noise can be disturbing and a nuisance, while music has been shown to have positive and beneficial effects on human beings
- Noise is wild and untamed, whereas music is soothing and appealing to listen to
Scientists have conducted studies on the impact of music on human beings and other living things and discovered some interesting effects. It will come as no surprise that music causes human beings to relax.
A study published in the Journal of Human Ergology4 (ergology is the study of the psychological effects of work) looked at the differences in heart rate when people listened to music compared to other types of noise. Researchers played classical and rock music, and a tape of recorded noise for participants. They discovered that the sympathetic nerves (those that control a body’s automatic actions like heart rate and blood pressure) were suppressed when a person listened to classical music which, in turn, caused a slower heart rate. On the other hand, rock music and noise increased the heart rate. Researchers concluded that “classical music tends to cause comfort and rock music and noise tend to cause discomfort.”
Part of the reason that rock music may be unsuccessful in causing relaxation and calm is the decibel level of the noise. Any noise over 90 decibels is considered dangerous to hearing. Both sandblasting and a rock concert register at 115 decibels.
Therapists have understood the benefits of music therapy for many years. The American Music Therapy Association6 says that music therapy can promote “wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, enhance memory, and improve communication” for veterans, children, those with Autism and Alzheimer’s disease, and others.
Some studies5 have found that music can also help patients relax before surgery. It can help to decrease anxiety, heart rate, and blood pressure.
Animals react positively to music too
- After playing music in the barn during milking time for 69 days, scientists observed that on days when the music was played 45 percent of the cows voluntarily approached the milking system as opposed to 35 percent on days with no music2.
- Music exposure increased milk production in cows3.
- Carp grew more when exposed to music than fish not exposed to music3.
- Researchers found that when dogs waiting to be adopted listened to classical music, they spent “less time standing, more time resting and barked less” than when they listed to pop music or human conversation. When they listened to heavy metal, they barked more3.
Keeping in mind that any noise OVER 90 DECIBELS is considered dangerous to hearing, here we present the average decibel ratings of some familiar sounds (reprinted from our article titled Why 30 Million Americans Suffer from Completely Preventable Hearing Loss:
- The humming of a refrigerator: 45 decibels
- Normal conversation: 60 decibels
- Noise from heavy city traffic: 85 decibels
- Motorcyles: 95 decibels
- Sirens: 120 decibels
- Firecrackers and firearms: 150 decibels
Even beautiful noise can pose a danger to hearing loss:
- Chamber music in a small auditorium: 75-85 decibels
- Piano fortissimo: 92-95 decibels
- French horn: 90-106 decibels
- Symphony playing at its peak: 120-137 decibels
- Amplified rock music at 4 to 6 feet away: 120 decibels
The sounds that we encounter every day add to the cacophony of noise that we absorb:
- Food blender: 88 decibels
- Garbage disposal: 80 decibels
- Power mower: 96 decibels
- Farm tractor, jackhammer, garbage truck: 100 decibels
- And if you live near the airport, a jet at take off, heard at 305 meters, is measured at 100 decibels. 100 decibels is eight times louder than the safe range of 70 decibels
- When listening to a personal music system with stock earphones at a maximum volume, the sound generated can reach a level of over 100 decibels, loud enough to begin causing permanent damage after just 15 minutes per day