A “real” Radio Head? Can humans hear inaudible sound?

In my novel RADIO HEAD,  Shelby Rey claims to be able to “hear” the music inside others. Whether that’s humanly possible is debatable. However, Berlin researchers have found out that humans can hear “infrasound,” very low sounds below the limit of hearing, which is around 16 hertz. Young people and children are especially receptive to sound, and are able to hear very high-pitched “ultrasound” that their parents are unable to hear.

This is what the auditory cortex looks like during stimulation of the ear by low-frequency sound and infrasound. Credit: Max-Planck Institut für Bildungsforschung
This is what the auditory cortex looks like during stimulation of the ear by low-frequency sound and infrasound.
Credit: Max-Planck Institut für Bildungsforschung

In fact, high-pitch sound devices have been developed to keep young people away from certain places — an internationally controversial topic, from an ethical viewpoint.

Researchers set out to explore whether wind farms are harmful to humans. A wind farm is an area of land with a group of energy-producing windmills or wind turbines. Many people living near wind farms report sleep disturbances, a decline in performance, and other negative effects. The wind energy sector and local authorities claim the sounds generated are inaudible and much too weak to be the source of health problems.

Metrology experts and scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin investigated the hearing of “inaudible” sounds for three years. Very low sounds (infrasound, below 16 hertz) or very high sounds (ultrasound, above 16,000 hertz) occur in numerous situations of daily life, not only produced by wind turbines, but sometimes when a truck thunders past a house, or from a home power generator.

The results showed that humans hear sounds as low as 8 hertz, a whole octave lower than previously assumed. In addition, the listeners showed a reaction in certain parts of the brain which play a role in emotions. The sounds humans hear, whether they are music or not, appear to stimulate emotions. If the sound is an annoyance, can it cause symptoms of physical sickness as a result? The research team has applied to investigate further.

How do sounds — enjoyable or annoying — make you feel? Comment below or chat with me on Twitter! @WriterRLaclair

Read more about this phenomenon from researchers at Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB). Excerpts from this post are from “Can you actually hear ‘inaudible’ sound? Limits of human hearing (infrasound and ultrasound) examined.”

Stay in touch! Subscribe to this blog or chat with author Rebecca Laclair on Twitter at @WriterRLaclair. Looking for fun graphics and free memes? Visit the official RADIO HEAD Pinterest page!

 

 

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