Medical Mysteries of Music

Want to alter your brain? Try listening to silence.

We’re bombarded by audio all day. In fact, I’ve read some studies that say that the world is louder today than it’s ever been in human history with noise doubling or even tripling every 30 years or so. This means that silence–true silence–is in increasingly short supply.

Neuroscientists, psychologists, cardiologists, and other specialists, confirm that noise is bad for our overall health and our brains in particular. Noise that we can’t control causes stress. Stress leads to an increase in adrenaline, increased blood pressure, and increased anxiety. Not good.

Can periods of silence help? Perhaps. Experiments with mice in completely soundproof cages showed that dead silence encouraged the growth of cell growth in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that deals with memory. That seems to indicate that silence can improve cognition.

Why? Because trying to hear something when there’s nothing to hear stimulates the auditory cortex, the art of the brain dedicated to perceiving and analyzing sound. In short, the exercise of listening to silence is good for the brain, creating something called “positive stress” or “eustress.”

The idea is nothing new. Indian yogis have understood the power of silence for thousands of years. There’s even something call Nada Yoga, “the yoga of sound.” A session of Nana Yoga involves sitting in silence and paying close attention to anything that you can hear. Not only will you stimulate your audio cortex and grow more neurons, you will become more alert to your surroundings–all things good for brain health.

More here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37893 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “Want to alter your brain? Try listening to silence.

  • I can totally relate to this. I have one ear that is nearly completely blown. I have a hearing aid for it and I can’t stand to wear it. The world is just too loud when I wear it. Doesn’t matter what the volume is or where I am; I just can’t tolerate the noise.

    I’m definitely specific about when I like my sounds to be loud. I hate noise in the morning. I couldn’t stand living with someone as I hate to be bothered when I’m still waking up in the morning. I’m definitely a ‘leave me alone in the morning’ person. When I used to have a commute or if I have a doctor’s appointment anywhere in the early part of my day, I don’t want any sound – no music, no radio, no nothing. Coming back, I’ll play my cds or my ipod.

    Road trips; music on full blast as high as my sound system can take it and podcasts on the trip home if it’s a long one. I usually don’t want to hear music for most of the journey although I might listen to part of an album for some of the trip.

    Concerts vary although I definitely don’t like them as loud as I did when I was younger but I still love the thrill of the bass as much as I always have. I don’t get a thrill when I hear the ringing because now I know what it means versus when I was young and stupid and we all laughed and thought it a badge of honour. (My hearing loss has some connection but is largely not related. Luckily, I was never rich enough to indulge as much as I do these days otherwise I might have *two* blown ears!)

    When I am at home, the television is nearly inaudible and closed captioning is on because (1) I rarely watch anything in English and (2) I sate my need for reading with subtitles and (3) I can’t lipread and don’t like a loud television.

    I love a quiet house and live in a quiet neighborhood and have honeycomb shades that dampen the noise from the outdoors as well. When the mood strikes, I crank up my stereo and blast my lovely expensive (old and second-hand from an audiophile ex-colleague) speakers and (hopefully!) bother my next door neighbor 🙂

    Last night it was Malcolm McLaren Fans with Madame Butterfly and Carmen as I have a friend who will be doing the fight choreography for Carmen at our local Opera so hopefully I’ll get to see the dress for that! But I do love Malcolm despite the fact that he was an evil bastard; he was a genius.



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