Hearing Blog

Why can I hear those annoying sounds?

October 6, 2017


Ring! Ring! Beep! Beep! Buzz! Buzz!

Alarm clocks have to be one of the most annoying sounds experienced on a daily basis. After all why else would a snooze button exist?


But for those with hearing loss, it is often thought that despite the negative aspect of losing much of your hearing and having trouble conversing one positive exists. With hearing loss you won’t have to deal with those annoying sounds anymore, right? Wrong!


Some of the most annoying sounds are actually some of the easiest to hear, and it’s all because of their frequency levels. Sound is produced as mechanical vibration waves that put pressure on and displace air. The frequency is how many times that wave repeats itself, and frequency determines the pitch of a sound. The greater the frequency the higher the pitch, and the harder a sound is to hear. The lower the frequency, the lower the pitch. Lower frequency sounds are typically easier to hear than high frequency sounds.


And all those annoying sounds you hate so much? Well they are typically lower frequency sounds and thus some of the easiest to hear. And if you have hearing aids, many low and high frequency sounds you may not have been hearing before are suddenly audible. 


We’ve compiled five annoying sounds and matched them with sounds that are considered “normal” or “important” and that have near or identical frequency ranges.

  • Rhythmic snoring: low-frequency at 200Hz (water dripping)
  • Emergency broadcast system on TV or radio: between 853 & 960 Hz (conversation and speech)
  • Nails scraping on a chalkboard: between 2000Hz and 4000Hz (whispering)
  • Car alarms: (highly variable) but many center around 3500Hz (telephone ringing)
  • Baby crying: between 1000Hz and 5000Hz  (alarm clock, birds tweeting or singing)


What makes our brains register them as “unpleasant” or “annoying”?


According to a study by researchers at the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University in Newcastle upon Tyne, U.K., sounds may be interpreted as unpleasant because of heightened emotional responses. An article by CBS Los Angeles said the study showed variations in "activity in the amygdala and auditory complex according to the perceived unpleasantness of the sound.” Activity increased and took over regulation of the auditory complex when the subjects heard an annoying sound, thus indicating that the increase in emotional activity heightened the subjects’ perception of “annoying” sounds. 


The results also showed that sounds in the frequency range of 2,000 to 5,000 Hz were rated by subjects as the most unpleasant. 




Video content here