Our brains possess amazing abilities we don’t always realize we have, and a good number of them are linked to sound.
In this article, we have gathered together some of the most astonishing and captivating scientific facts about the sounds we perceive and how they affect us.
Welcome to the age of sound. Prepare to be amazed by these 10 superpowers!
- Listening, the exception in the human body that proves the rule
- Hearing before we see, taste, or touch
- Focusing attention on a single person in a noisy environment
- Processing two different types of information depending on which ear is hearing
- Enlarging your normally restricted field of vision
- Alleviating the symptoms of illness
- Uniting all human beings
- Amplifying emotions
- Awakening our wild nature
- Telling the whole story
1. Listening, the exception in the human body that proves the rule
Sensory information received by the human body crosses cerebral hemispheres: if you raise your right hand, part of the left hemisphere of your brain will be activated. This applies to vision, taste, olfaction, touch and motor skills… but not to hearing! Perceived sound information is transmitted directly from the left ear to the left hemisphere of the brain.
2. Hearing before we see, taste, or touch
Hearing is the first sense to develop in the fetus, starting as early as the fourth week of pregnancy, right alongside the sense of smell. The first sounds are perceived from the 26th week (the sixth month), and it is the only element of interaction with the outside world, olfaction being transmitted by the placenta in a form different from that which we find after birth.
3. Focusing attention on a single person in a noisy environment
The brain is capable of concentrating on a single conversation despite the presence background noise, thanks to an attentional filter known as the Cocktail Party Effect. Better still, hearing one’s own name generates a greater spike in brain activity than hearing common names, increasing our ability to focus. Finally, a familiar voice is more easily recognized than an unfamiliar one: the visual areas responsible for processing faces are activated when we hear a familiar voice, making it easier to recognize the person – something that comes in handy in a crowd!
4. Processing two different types of information depending on which ear is hearing
Emotionally positive vocalizations, such as laughter or happy voices, elicit a greater peak of activity when listened to by the left ear than by the right. Conversely, more emotionally neutral or negative vocalizations, such as frightened cries, do not have this association with the left side.
5. Enlarging your normally restricted field of vision
When people unable to perceive stimuli in half their visual field (hemispatial neglect patients) listen to their favorite music, they are more likely to detect visual cues presented in their damaged field of vision. Elements they had not previously seen become apparent to them.
6. Alleviating the symptoms of illness
How can we reduce suffering and regain a sufficiently stable state to combat the symptoms of our illnesses?
Studies have shown that music helps patients suffering from the following forms of trauma:
- By reconnecting brain regions isolated during a stroke;
- By setting up a precise rhythm to enable the brain to synchronize movement in cases of Parkinson’s;
- By helping to activate procedural memory in cases of Alzheimer’s.
7. Uniting all human beings
Music is universal and present in all cultures. It exists in all societies (with or without words) and has the particularity of being more varied within one society than between two different societies. Music is commonly and universally associated with behavioral contexts such as infant care, healing, dancing and love.
8. Amplifying emotions
Three out of every four people feel their hair stand on end when they listen to any piece of music, and this figure rises even higher when the music is familiar! So sound is indeed an amplifier of human emotions, common to the vast majority of human beings.
9. Awakening our wild nature
In our brains, the so-called reward circuit corresponds to the activation of specific areas associated with the notion of pleasure. For example, the sensation of “grooving” significantly increases the activity of these regions. Grooving satisfies the desire to to move rhythmically in the presence of music, which in turn gives us pleasure.
10. Telling the whole story
Have you ever tried watching a film without the music? The viewing experience is completely different! In fact, film music directs visual attention: it’s capable of influencing the way we perceive scenes. Without sound, there’s no anchor point for your gaze. So watching a film without music is like depriving your brain of information central to understanding the story.
Now you can hear like you’ve never heard before!
Know of any other superpowers of sound not mentioned in this article?
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