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Melody Over Mind – How Sound Environments Affect the Mind

By: Tribe

environment and sound by Sydney Amoakoh

written by: Sydney Amoakoh

It’s happened to all of us. Those days where you can’t remember where you left your keys, or what you were supposed to do this afternoon. But that song you learned when you were 13 is clear in your mind, down to every last backup vocal and double entendre you hadn’t understood as a tweenager.

More baffling still — you step right back into how that song used to make you feel. Why is that? 

Our brains were built to connect sounds with our feelings, mindsets, and memories as a way of surviving

We feel what we hear

When we hear sounds, our bodies produce emotions. And those emotions tell us how to interact with the world around us – how to deal with life’s best and worst realities. 

Seth Horowitz, an auditory neuroscientist at Brown University, explains

Sound and the mind are very, very intricately linked, and yet we almost never pay attention to sound. Sound is always there. It’s our early warning system. It’s also our emotional driver. It’s our attentional driver. Everything you hear has some kind of impact on you and changes how you respond to the rest of the world. 

The sound of a memory

Once a sound evokes an emotion, that connection gets stored in our brain and takes on a long-lasting emotional meaning in our memory.

That’s why the blaring of an alarm or siren, and the hurried shuffle of feet usually ‘reminds’ us to feel on-edge or fearful. And it’s why the comforting familiarity of a happy tune or gentle waterfall can release all the dopamine that puts genuine smiles on our faces. 

It’s also why people with reduced hearing are more vulnerable to dips in mental health – being cut off from sound cuts you off from a very powerful connection to real-time and memory-based emotions. Hikes might not be as pleasant when you can’t hear that waterfall. And missing words or tones might drain some of the fun from grabbing coffee with friends.

Sound environments for sound minds

When Apple’s programmers are designing alarm tones, and when film productions invest in massive sound budgets, they’re banking on using these sound-mind connections to influence people’s feelings. 

In the same way, we can take sound into our own hands to take charge of how we feel and experience the world. And when we create environments of better sound, it’s easier for people with all levels of hearing to be comfortable in social spaces. 

For us, healthy sound environments mean

Limited Background Noises – meaning turning off unused appliances, stepping out for that private phone call and using smart acoustic design. These small changes can help us complete tasks or relax with more focus, less stress and the ability to make clearer memories.

Responsive Sound Levels – think, cafes and pubs where the music shifts with conversation levels so you don’t have to shout. This 

– A Good Balance Between Comfortable Volume and Vibrant Atmosphere 

What do you do to make your surroundings sound better?

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