While noise is pollution, silence may very well be golden
It’s long been said that noise is pollution. Research into just how bad sound is for our health is widespread, with countless studies from the 1960s onwards clearly showing a relationship between everyday exposure to noise and bad health. Those living near to airports, flight paths, or motorways live nosey lives, and the documented link between a bad night’s sleep, heart disease, heightened stress, high blood pressure, and, obviously enough, loss of hearing.
In fact, sound and noise can be lethal. If it’s loud enough, say the shockwave of a bomb or the thump of a volcano erupting, the noise can level houses, shatter glass, rupture eardrums, or even kill you.
Silence, on the other hand, is golden. Often misunderstood as just the absence of noise, nonpartisan non-noise that neither harms nor benefits the body and soul, silence has rarely been subject to the same level of scientific study. But of late, a number of papers into the value of quiet suggest that taking some time to unwind in the noiseless void can be beneficial to our health.
Writing over on Nautilus, science journalist Daniel A Gross outlines how numerous scientists happened upon the values of silence purely by accident. Numerous research teams looking into the neuroscience of noise, mostly by way of music, found that when they crunched the numbers, it was quiet that had a greater impact.
Take, for instance, a study led by a Duke University biologist determined that although all sounds have short-term neurological effects, no singular one, in particular, affects the brain in the lasting sense. But, as Goss writes, much to the researchers’ surprise, they found that “two hours of silence per day prompted cell development in the hippocampus, the brain region related to the formation of memory involving the senses.”
The giant caveat that comes with the Duke University study is that the results charted in the research applied to mice, and when it comes to studies of mice and men, they’re not always aligned. But while noise has been at the forefront of neuroscience for decades, studies of silence are relatively few and new. Some researchers hope that the results from studies like the one carried out in Duke may, in turn, help in the development of potential treatments for a number of disorders and diseases that are associated with sluggish cell growth in the hippocampus, most notably depression and dementia.
It’s unclear what role silence is playing in our health, but what is, at least, clear to neuroscientists is that while we may thinking of it as nothing, when it comes to the brain it clearly is something.