A new study by American scientists has unexpectedly confirmed that the loudness of sound makes people feel closer to others because it contributes to a social atmosphere. People probably associate silence with loneliness and isolation. Having some form of background noise, such as a radio, television, audiobook, or music, can be a useful way to combat feelings of loneliness.
In today’s world, where urbanization is occurring at an incredible rate, cities are becoming more and more crowded, and so is traffic. As a consequence, the words “loud sound” probably have a negative meaning for the average urban dweller and perhaps remind one of honking cars, early morning construction work and inattentive neighbors. However, a new study shows that loudness isn’t so bad.
How are such different concepts as loudness and loneliness in general somehow related to each other?
Loudness of sounds and noises increases as crowds increase
Interpersonal interaction is often accompanied by loud noises, while isolation is accompanied by silence. Common sense tells us that loudness increases as crowding increases.
Imagine watching a comedy movie on Netflix with your best friends or with people you barely know. Again, it is intuitive that people are more verbose and expressive in the presence of close friends and more reserved and shy in the presence of strangers, so the first scenario is likely to include a louder atmosphere.
Simple exposure to volume can evoke feelings of interpersonal intimacy, just as the smell of cookies can evoke nostalgic memories.
Compensatory mechanism of sound
There are also some secondary and perhaps more interesting results from this study. People who were made to feel unwanted and lonely tended to prefer a higher volume when given an audiobook to listen to.
Perhaps this reflects the compensatory mechanism by which people surround themselves with loud noises, as they create the false sense of camaraderie sought by those who are deprived of real communication. Moreover, exposure to loudness demonstrates surprisingly powerful protective effects in the face of social isolation.
Socially ignored participants who listened to the audiobook at high volume felt no worse than those who were not ignored, while participants who listened to the same audiobook at low volume felt significantly worse than everyone else. Again, this seems to be due to the fact that loud sounds promote the perception of a “social atmosphere,” which acts as a buffer against the pain of being ignored.
These results are consistent with the everyday observation that people, especially those who are alone, often tend to turn on some form of background noise, such as music or television, while working or performing household chores, even if they do not intend to pay attention to these sounds.
A subtle connection to sound perception
Interestingly, volume levels of sound and noise affect not only feelings of interpersonal intimacy, but also how we perceive sounds in the environment.
In particular, one experiment showed that participants who had memories related to loneliness actually rated their environment as more relaxed compared to those who reflected on active social interactions, despite being in the same environment. Taken together, the results of this study show that we have a subtle connection to sound perception.
Loneliness is a ubiquitous phenomenon. It can be seen as chronic pain in the sense that it is an unpleasant feeling that can make our lives unproductive. Unfortunately, the pandemic may have exacerbated the already widespread phenomenon of loneliness. Turning on some form of sound and increasing its volume may be the perfect solution to this problem.