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Oh, my bleeding ears!
In my free time, I like to read whatever scientific treatises I can get my hands on — the longer, more jargony the better.
(OK, in the interest of honesty, I should confess that statement was absolutely false).
Flipping through my most recent copy of Journal of Neuroscience (another lie), I was drawn to a particularly interesting study by the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University. Normally I’m not terribly intrigued by neuroscience because, after all, it’s not exactly brain science (OK, yeah, it’s exactly that), but this particular study tripped my trigger.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging and a bunch of other polysyllabic words, researchers looked at brain activity in 13 healthy volunteers as they listened to 74 sounds. The volunt-ears ranked each sound from most annoying to most pleasant.
Thus, the scientists were able to — drum roll, please — determine the 10 most annoying sounds.
Should anybody like to go the source, I’d be glad to loan out my copy of the Journal of Neuroscience (yeah, another lie), but WebMD dumbed it down for the masses, though it did preserve such cool words as amygdala and auditory cortex. It also provided clickable mp3s of the top-five most-annoying sounds.
They are: 1. Knife on bottle. 2. Fork on a glass. 3. Chalk on a blackboard. 4. Ruler on a bottle. And 5. Nails on a blackboard.
Personally, I can think of a bunch more sounds that make those five seem like heaven’s house band — like the sound of crunching coming from the gaping maw of a cubicle-mate, with whom I’d politely broach the subject, but then that wouldn’t be nearly passive-aggressive enough to suit me, now would it?
In the interest of science, however, I clicked on all five with the volume cranked, and both my kids (and my wife’s cat) confirmed that all five noises were, in fact, annoying.
My son is by far the most annoying Hartsock in the house (yup, another falsehood), and he seemed least perturbed.
My daughter doubled over and held her head in her hands. “Fork on a glass” was particularly distressing to her, though, it should be noted, she can listen to One Direction on a loop with no ill effects, so she’s not exactly a control group.
The cat didn’t last past “knife on a bottle” before lodging his objections by biting my daughter and running away. He never was one to do his part to advance science.
I found “nails on a blackboard” to be especially hair-raising, though I did generate a universal heebie-jeebie (and a withering stare from across the table) when I recreated “fork on a glass” with “fork on dinner plate” at dinner.
Down below “female scream” and “disc grinder” — but ahead of “baby crying” and “electric drill” — on the top-10 list was this gem: “Squealing brakes on a bicycle.”
That’s a good (bad) one, but it’s not the most annoying bike noise, at least to my addled amygdala.
I can’t stand the sound of a rusty, dry chain.
A few years ago, I noticed wherever, whenever I rode, cats would come out from their little hidey holes and make straight for me. It was especially creepy in the dead of night.
I couldn’t figure it out, until I finally noticed the chain on my fixed-gear bike had become a little dry. The sound was barely audible to me, but to Mr. and Mrs. Whiskers, it must have sounded like a giant can opener, so they’d come runnin’, expecting some sort of canned fish treat.
But that’s nothing compared to the awful grinding of dry, rusty chain on dry, rusty cog, over and over.
I’ve often fantasized about riding with a tube of lube, pulling alongside the offending chain-grinders and leaning over to apply oil on the fly.
But it probably wouldn’t be received in the spirit in which it was intended.
Even that sound, however, pales to what I consider to be the most annoying on-bike noise: screeching car tires, from behind.
Fortunately, I hear that sound about as infrequently as the neuroscientists’ top five.
That’s about to change, though, as soon as I figure out how to make them my new ringtones.