Bad sounds
November 14, 2005 4:52 AM   Subscribe

Sound 101 Fingernails scraping down a blackboard... the scream of a baby... your neighbour's dog barking: what is the worst sound in the world? This is what this website is trying to find out. Acoustic science is concerned with the production, transmission, manipulation and reception of sound, from unwanted traffic noise to beautiful music. Acoustics is about both the physical properties of sound waves and the reaction of humans. This website is interested in the often complex ways in which people perceive and interpret sounds. The aim is to increase awareness of sound psychology by examining what makes a sound unpleasant to hear. Your votes on the site will also give us an insight into what is the worst sound in the world, and maybe why it is the worst sound.
posted by Ugandan Discussions (42 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The sounds of the man sniffing and the man eating with his mouth open will haunt me for all eternity. Gah. And double gah.

The sound of a baby crying will make me leave any store or restaurant; I absolutely detest it. The baby crying sound that they use, though, isn't really that's more like a plaintive bleat than a harrowing wail.

[Your votes on the site will also give us an insight] You should put quotes around text that you've copied from the site you're linking to, because although I know that your words are from the About page, it makes it seem like this is your site.
posted by iconomy at 5:12 AM on November 14, 2005

About 10 sounds in, I got bored and quit.

Worst sound in the world, to me: Sheet metal tearing (industrial-strength demolition equipment). Imagine fingernails down a blackboard. Now imagine the same sound at, oh, about 180 dB -- ear protection is de rigeur, unless you want to be deafened.
posted by alumshubby at 5:19 AM on November 14, 2005

Those sounds were all pretty weak. Except the fingernails on the blackboard.

Looks like they are examining the effect of different pictures with different sounds.
posted by srboisvert at 5:20 AM on November 14, 2005

I wasn't sure how long the test was meant to be. The sounds started repeating, so I quit.

I'm not so bothered by natural sounds, so the crying baby and the bleating goat (I think that's what it was) weren't offensive at all. Chewing with the mouth open, yes. Fingernails on the blackboard, yes. Rubbing Styrofoam pieces together (again, I think that's what it was) yes. Creaking door, yes. Each of those sounds would be tolerable if just incidental, but they're the kind of sounds that some unkind person could make repeatedly, knowing that they aggravate someone.

Sometimes the pictures didn't match the sounds, which I guess was intentional, so that each sound was unexpected. But then the pictures started matching the sounds. Couldn't figure that out.
posted by emelenjr at 5:29 AM on November 14, 2005

Grr. Yeah, what srboisvert said RE different pictures/different sounds. No wonder the sounds repeated.

Still, it would have been nice to know how far along I was in the test after each click.
posted by emelenjr at 5:32 AM on November 14, 2005

Tooooo Looooong.

Some cool sounds. I wish they had offered sounds for positive reactions as well as bad.

It seems disingenuous to offer images and sounds while claiming the reactions to sounds is your interest. Showing a pretty scene then intruding with an alarm clock (albeit not a bad alarm sound) was rude. The bell of the clock still sounded the same when it was repeated with a cartoon image of a happy alarm clock.
posted by Goofyy at 5:42 AM on November 14, 2005

ANY survey done on the internet is not scientific... these are pretty much a waste of everyone's time..
posted by HuronBob at 5:57 AM on November 14, 2005

Before voting for the worst sound, please tell us your gender, age and where you are.

posted by sjvilla79 at 6:12 AM on November 14, 2005

Man, they didn't have my all time least favorite sound...raw cotton being ripped apart. That sound gives me the heebie-jeebies so much.

But then again, whenever I tell anyone about that they think I'm crazy and have never noticed that pulling apart cotton even makes a sound.
posted by piratebowling at 6:15 AM on November 14, 2005

I think one of the worst sounds for me has to be sandpaper on styrofoam. Their styrofoam on styrofoam couldn't compete.

The arguing couple was pretty bad too.
posted by musicinmybrain at 6:22 AM on November 14, 2005

what is the worst sound in the world?

Automatic pitch correction.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:30 AM on November 14, 2005

My cat used to love scratching the wall at night, and you can imagine what it sounded like. That's why I was forced to have him declawed.
posted by mike3k at 6:51 AM on November 14, 2005

I agree.. too long. An interesting study in that they are weighing your reaction to a sound based on whether or not you are aware of what is making the sound. The worst sound for me is crunching styrofoam, but it seems that it doesn't bother me as much if I can't identify it as such.
posted by boymilo at 6:57 AM on November 14, 2005

Sean Hannity?
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 7:04 AM on November 14, 2005

The worst sound in the world was the sound of the girl I was madly in love with in university having sex with someone else three feet (i.e. a wall) away from my bed.

Time has passed, life moved on, all is well today...but I'll still be taking that one to my grave.
posted by you just lost the game at 7:06 AM on November 14, 2005

Fork scraping teeth. Even typing this makes my skin crawl.
posted by ColdChef at 7:08 AM on November 14, 2005

In terms of more mundane sounds, my vote goes to ice scrapers on car windows.
posted by you just lost the game at 7:09 AM on November 14, 2005

My favorite sound? The sound of this guy weeping three feet away from me (i.e. through a wall) while I made love to this girl he was madly in love with in university.

Ah, sweet, sweet tears.
posted by ColdChef at 7:10 AM on November 14, 2005

I tip my cap to you, ColdChef. Well played.
posted by you just lost the game at 7:14 AM on November 14, 2005

I'll bet the sound of a hard-of-hearing tone-deaf man singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" ain't on the list -- but it should be. My "SO" threatened me with a knife to shut me up.

And ColdChef, that was just an lowdown stunt you should be ashamed of. If you think he'll cry you're supposed to fuck his True Love without his knowledge.
posted by davy at 7:20 AM on November 14, 2005

ANY survey done on the internet is not scientific... these are pretty much a waste of everyone's time..

There may be issues with sampling (though it looks like it is a within subjects design so that is less of a concern) and control (speaker volume, environmental interference, etc) but it can still be scientific. There are plenty of findings to be had in a study like this. It could be exploratory. They could be gathering norms. They could be looking at regional differences based on IP. They could be pilot testing. All perfectly valid science.

Just because there aren't labcoats and penile plethysmographs doesn't mean it isn't science.
posted by srboisvert at 7:24 AM on November 14, 2005

Usually it isn't the sound that bugs, it is the concept represented by the sound. I didn't look at the "why" section of the site, but that is probably it.
posted by jmccorm at 7:24 AM on November 14, 2005

So I guess I won't bother with the test.

The worst sound in the world in my opinion is the sound of a shrieking man. Maybe it is a psychological thing but it scares the shit out of me-- much more so than the sound of a screaming woman or baby.

And yes, a baby's screams can burrow right into your brain. That is the way Mother Nature intended it to be, so you wouldn't, ya know, ignore the baby's distress. If you ignore these screams, then the rest of the tribe is suppossed to jump right in and figure what is wrong. I imagine natural selection winnowed out the easy listening baby cries.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:37 AM on November 14, 2005

i can't stand the sound of someone crunching...grape nuts commercials make me turn the channel...i curse forever the person who decided it was a good idea to sell popcorn in a movie theater...those who know me know that eating ice is grounds for justifiable homicide...i've even considered hypnosis to try to get over this, but really, my ragemeter shoots up when someone opens a bag of doritos...

(of course, for some reason i don't mind it when i crunch something, and yes, i know this is hypocritical)
posted by troybob at 7:45 AM on November 14, 2005

The site has no mention of the application of horrible sounds in crime control and defense. Sound has been employed as a weapon or a control strategy in the Iraq war by both sides. That's one of the real reasons there's so much interest in research on human reactions to sound, and on sound delivery systems.
posted by Miko at 7:52 AM on November 14, 2005

This is isn't the first investigation of it's kind... I think I remember a study that found crying babies to me universally the most unbearable sound. The authors argued this was for evolutionary reasons (which makes one wonder if the sound is awful because we've adapted to what babies do in distress, or whether babies are manipulating us by using a sound we'd try hardest to stop-- I guess it could be a little of both). Interesting that the other naturalistic sounds people list also would have reasons why people would find them detestable-- e.g. people coughing or masticating loudly (disgust propels us away from harmful germs).
posted by mowglisambo at 7:53 AM on November 14, 2005

"Hey, wanna hear the most annoying sound in the world?"
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:06 AM on November 14, 2005

Wood on tongue. That is the worst sound! Or when you scrape a ceramic plate with your fork by accident. Agh! Or when you accidentally bite tinfoil, or when you cut metal. Actually cutting metal is probably the worst sound. No no wait! That noise when the microphone catchs the speaker and the feedback loop quickly reaches crescendo! Oh no, wait, I know, when you are on stage and finish whatever you were doing, but don't get any applause. Yes, I've figured it out! Awkward silence is the worst noise!
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:14 AM on November 14, 2005

Fingernails on a blackboard still top the list for me. Supposedly, this is because it sounds like an ape distress call, though I never quite buy explanations like that (bosoms being displaced buttocks, etc.).

Also, I'm slightly freaked out by the fact that I heard about this on Richard & Judy before MetaFilter.
posted by jack_mo at 8:35 AM on November 14, 2005

I posted it before Richard and Judy. I'll have you know!
posted by Ugandan Discussions at 8:40 AM on November 14, 2005

You guys aren't even close. When I lived in Toronto, while having sex with the woman I was madly in love with, I had to put up with Gordon Lightfoot three feet (i.e. a wall) away from my bed, singing The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:50 AM on November 14, 2005

Gordon Lightfoot was her neighbour? I feel your pain.
posted by kika at 8:57 AM on November 14, 2005

top two:

1. george w. bush talking.
2. an old dog nawing on himself, like there is chocolate coming out of his ass
posted by tarantula at 9:24 AM on November 14, 2005

Fingernails on a blackboard never bothered me until I did it myself. The way the blackboard felt on the tips of my fingers combined with the sound is what made it horrible, and now every time I hear it I can actually feel it in my fingertips and it completely creeps me out.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:35 AM on November 14, 2005

Supposedly, this is because it sounds like an ape distress call

The explanation I heard makes more sense -- that it sounds/feels like teeth scraping bone, as in a predatory animal chewing up your caveperson ancestor. Though it adds up a little better on a visceral level, I still don't believe it, because I try to resist the pop-cultural desperation for evolutionary explanations for everything.
posted by Miko at 10:49 AM on November 14, 2005

Leaf blower. Sunday, 7 a.m.
posted by NationalKato at 11:43 AM on November 14, 2005

The knock on the door when you're the last person on earth.
posted by Sparx at 12:21 PM on November 14, 2005

A carbonated beverage being poured into a glass (as used in countless beverage ads).

Melisma, in pop music.

The whine of a mosquito.

The periodic beep of the self-serve gas station console that's trying to get my attention to sell me a car wash.

posted by kurumi at 12:26 PM on November 14, 2005

cats fighting.
posted by goethean at 1:24 PM on November 14, 2005

People quoting "Rejected"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:28 PM on November 14, 2005

Gum popping.

Hey troybob, did you see these AskMe threads?
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:00 PM on November 14, 2005

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