Loud and Proud?

Loud and Proud! That was the banner I saw on the TV screen as I watched the Buffalo Bills game last Sunday. There was a movement in Ralph Wilson Stadium to not only beat the Patriots, but to set a new world's record for noise level in a stadium.  The current record of 142.2 dB was set by the Kansas City Chiefs.  Well, as you know, the Bills put up a good fight but failed to beat the Pats and  perhaps relatedly, failed to set a new record for loudness. I can’t help but ask “Why?”  Sure, I get the relationship between crowd noise and motivation, team support and excitement. But I want to look a little deeper, into our brains and bodies and try to understand why this is so. 

Sound is unique in that it not only has the ability to excite and energize us, but often we have the ability to increase the intensity of the sound with the intention of increasing the intensity of the experience. We hear a song we like and we want to turn up the volume; perhaps to become ‘consumed’ by it.  When looking at a beautiful painting, we do not have the ability to increase the intensity of the colors of brightness of the images. So what exactly is it about sound that makes us want it louder?

One theory is that these extremely intense sounds not only excite the structures in the cochlea (the sensory organ of hearing) but also, when intense enough,  excite our vestibular system, which plays a part for our sense of balance. Research highlights that above 105 dB, the saccule, a sensory organ for balance, also responds. So perhaps the brain interprets intense, rhythmic sound as a repetitive movement akin to rocking or riding a rollercoaster, which for most people is pleasurable.

Another theory is that loud sounds may creates a feeling of intimacy.  Vision and hearing can be categorized as distant senses, while touch, smell and taste are considered intimate senses.  When sound is intense enough, the sensation crosses over to more of a tactile experience, therefore creating a more intimate feeling, which we may find pleasurable. 

So now we understand some possible reasons why our biology is set up to crave this loudness. Fortunately, we also posses the ability to assess risk and act accordingly! An intact frontal lobe, the part of our brain responsible for decision making, will hopefully kick in and say "Hey, that's too loud!" or in the case of 142 dB, "Hey, that hurts! Get away from there and put on some hearing protection!"  I have to admit, my initial intention of this blog was to admonish the behavior of those behind the beat the record movement, but I doubt there was an adult in the stadium who was not aware of the damage that may be caused by that level of noise (well, maybe a few).  But to take it a level further and think about why helps us understand ourselves and also allows us to realize although this may be in our nature, we also know we want to keep our bodies healthy to ensure longevity of all our body parts and systems. So support your team and cheer, but make sure to whip out your SensGard  Ear Chambers first and make sure to pick a color that represents your team!