The psychology of sound
What you hear can trigger a host of different reactions
Sounds are able to create powerful reactions on deep, instinctive levels. A baby’s cry can set a new parent into action without conscious thought, a sharp warning hiss of a snake can trigger adrenaline, and hearing that favourite song on the radio might bring a smile before you realise it. Scientists and thinkers have been pondering the relationship between sound and emotion for thousands of years. Modern day neuroscience has uncovered amazing insights into the relationship between our ears, minds and emotions. Deep within the brain, in the Amygdala, we processes memories and emotional reaction, while the Hippocampus controls behaviour and helps form memories. Within these most primal sectors of the mind, responses are triggered when we hear sound. Breathing, heart rate, brainwaves and hormone secretions are continuously affected by incoming audio. Sounds are associated with experiences and the feelings connected to them, both good and bad. How someone feels at any given moment, is very often affected directly by what they hear. People have the ability to remember hundreds, if not thousands of songs and voices. Sounds are remembered more easily because of the impression they make on your mind, and they also are much harder to ignore. Hearing someone say your name across a crowded room, but seeming to ignore everything else, is just one example.
Film and game-makers have capitalised on the psychological power of sound for years. They know how sound can evoke emotions. The right music or ambient sounds can instantly connect an audience to a flood of associated feelings. Everyone has that favourite game theme song or movie score. As soon as they hear it, they recall how they ‘felt’ when they played it or saw it the first time. Perhaps it’s the iconic Super Mario Bros theme or the soundtrack from Azeroth in World of Warcraft. The right sound design, the right music, can not only set the mood, but emotionally connect to people in a way visuals alone simply cannot.
Sound And emotions brain stem reflex
When loud or dissonant sounds are heard, they signal a potentially important and urgent event, causing us to react on an instinctive level. Notifications, beeps and sirens are examples.
Learned response or conditioning
When we have heard a sound repeatedly in a certain situation, it can often lead to an association between that sound and situation. Hearing it again, can instantly elicit emotions or feelings.
Perceiving emotions expressed by a piece of music. It doesn’t have to sound sad. Instead we recognise it as conveying ‘sadness’. Sound is so fundamental, that it often transcends languages. People from diverse cultural backgrounds often agree on whether a piece of music sounds happy or sad. This has led some to term music the ‘language of emotions’.