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How Sensitive Are You to Sound?

By: Imogen Beech

How sensitive are you to sound

Do you hate the sound of chalk on a blackboard? Does the sound of chewing or slurping drive you up the wall? Or does the noise from roadworks across the street do your head in?

Believe it or not, ordinary sounds cause many of us to feel negative emotions, such as irritation, stress, anxiety or worry. But despite this, most of us don’t make conscious decisions about the types and levels of sounds we experience day-to-day.

So, what are the different levels of hearing sensitivity? And where do you fit in on the scale? Here’s the lowdown.

hearing sensitive lady working in office attire

Different types of hearing sensitivity

Decreased Sound Tolerance

Someone who has Decreased Sound Tolerance (DST) finds it hard to tolerate some of the usual and everyday sounds that don’t cause discomfort to other people. This is thought to be caused by an oversensitivity within the brain’s auditory circuitry, which makes some sounds painful, annoying or just plain uncomfortable! 

The phrase ‘decreased sound tolerance’ is an umbrella term that refers to lots of different types of sound intolerance. But two of the main ones are hyperacusis and misophonia. Don’t worry, we’ll go into these individually in a second!

Related article: Why do we prefer some people’s voices over others?

Hyperacusis

Hyperacusis is the most common of the three sound intolerance types we’ve mentioned. Someone with hyperacusis will have high sensitivity to moderate and low-volume sounds. 

Imagine the sound of a phone ringing or of fireworks being set off. Most people wouldn’t think twice about these kinds of sounds, but for people with hyperacusis, they can be uncomfortable or even painful.

Related article: Finding the words: the vocabulary of sound

Misophonia

Misophonia is a high adverse emotional reaction to specific sounds. People who have misophonia sometimes describe it as certain sounds ‘driving them crazy.’ 

Whether it’s chewing, slurping, finger cracking or pen tapping, most of us have certain sounds we find annoying. Misophonia is when this goes a step further and triggers a hyperactive response within the emotional centers of the brain. This could result in disgust, annoyance, anger or even anxiety.

Related article: 5 ways that sound affects the human body

 

The hearing sensitivity scale

Dr. Therese Verkerke Cash is a clinical psychologist who developed a scale designed to help diagnose patients with DST (check out her PhD thesis for the full lowdown). 

She then created a hearing sensitivity scale based on a questionnaire that asks individuals questions about 10 sounds, called the DST-10 questionnaire. These sounds are divided into two groups: the human sounds subscale (HSS) and the loudness sensitivity subscale (LSS). 

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How to know your hearing sensitivity?

To understand your level of sensitivity to sound, we have modeled a quiz you can take based on the DST-10 questionnaire, also known as the hearing personality report. 

The questions you answer are designed to find out where you fall on both the HSS and the LSS scales, on a scale of 1-4 (where 1 is the least sensitive). Then, we merge the two scales together to reveal 16 possible combinations, assigned to 7 sound sensitivity groups. Group 1 is the least sensitive to sounds, while Group 7 is the most hearing sensitive!

By assigning you a Hearing Personality score in this way, we can help you to find social spaces that are designed for your sound preferences and needs. Plus, we’ll be able to give you tailored advice and tips on how to make the most of sound in your day-to-day life!

Related article:  Video calls: how can we stop household noises affecting our work? 

The Hearing Personality scores

We know what you’re thinking: how many people are sensitive to sound? And how many are completely zen? Is it normal to find certain sounds annoying?

Well, we’ll let this graph do the talking…

As you can see, it’s pretty unusual for people to be completely unaffected by the sounds around them. Instead, 35% of those who’ve taken our Hearing Personality quiz have fallen into the ‘moderately high sensitivity group, with ‘moderately low sensitivity’ and ‘high sensitivity’ being the two next most common.

Sensitive conclusion

Just remember: we’re not doctors and we’re not here to diagnose you with any medical conditions! So, don’t panic if you get a result you weren’t expecting or if you fall into one of the higher sensitivity groups. 

Firstly, the DST-10 scale is primarily suitable for ‘ruling out’ hyperacusis and misophonia, rather than diagnosing them. And secondly, if you’re worried about your hearing, a doctor should be your first port of call!

So, what are you waiting for? If you’re ready to find out where you fit on the sound sensitivity scale (and to get some great venue recommendations and sound tips!), just take our 4-minute quiz. Then, check out your free Hearing Personality report. Enjoy!

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