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Science Identifies Worst Sound on the Planet - It’s Not What You Think

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Science Identifies Worst Sound on the Planet - It’s Not What You Think

We consider hearing a gift. Each day we see  faces light up with joy as people hear sounds they are hearing for the first time in years. But even we find a few noises - an ambulance squealing down the street or the sound of teenager's ringtone - so awful we sometimes wish we could program hearing aids (and ears!) to tune them out completely. 

According to science, we're not alone. In 2007, one British researcher went on a quest to uncover the most cringeworthy sounds on earth, according to people from across the globe. To start, University of Salford Professor of Acoustic Engineering Trevor J. Cox rounded up 34 horrible sounds, ranging from the whir of the dental drill to the smack of a cat eating. Next he put them online through a scientific survey that collected participants' demographic data and allowed them to rank each sound. After one year and more than 1.1 million responses, the results were presented in a scientific paper presented at 19th International Congress on Acoustics.

And the worst sound in the world?

1. Vomiting

It may help to know that the sound in the study was actually a re-creation involving an actor, a bucket, and a can of baked beans. Still, the sound easily beat out fingernails on a chalkboard (a surprisingly low #16) to rank as the worst sound around thanks to the universal disgust it triggers in people across the globe.

Researchers say our revulsion may be an innate survival mechanism. If one member of a tribe shows signs of having ingested something harmful, sympathetic disgust can help others who ate the same thing expel it before they become ill.

Here’s what else made it to the top of the unfortunate heap. Turn up your speakers and see if you agree.

2. Microphone feedback

The concert-ruining squeal of audio feedback ranks high on the cringe list. Some scientists say this one also goes back to our evolutionary heritage. They speculate high-pitched squeals sound a like monkey warning calls, setting our primate brains on edge.

3. Crying Babies

Think one baby crying is bad? Try three or four.

Multiple babies crying outranked a solitary one, which still clocked in at number eight. Interestingly, men found a baby’s cry to be worse than women, who Cox speculates may be more habituated to the noise.

4. Train Scraping on Tracks

Not exactly music to the ears, is it? 

5. Metal-on-Metal Squeaking 

The study used the sound of a squeaky seesaw to test a slightly less dramatic version of metal-on-metal. And no surprise, it's grating.

Other sounds that made the top ten include badly played violin, a flatulent whoopee cushion, a single baby crying, soap opera argument, and electrical humming. To learn more about the study, visit http://www.sound101.org/badvibes/aboutIntro.php.

Do you agree with the most horrible sound in the world? Which sounds drive you crazy?

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