KEY POINTS

  • Researchers found that loud sounds can help combat feelings of exclusion
  • People may not realize that they're using the sounds as a "social comfort"
  • The findings present a simple way people can combat loneliness

Loud sounds can sometimes be uncomfortable, but a team of researchers found that they can actually help combat loneliness.

The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll not just on public health but it has also affected people's mental health globally. Many people quarantining to prevent the spread of the virus found themselves feeling lonely. Earlier in the year, a company even announced its plans to mass produce humanoid robots to tackle the effects of social isolation.

However, there may be a simpler approach to battling loneliness -- loud sounds.

For their study, published this week in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, a team of researchers conducted 12 experiments comprising of 2,000 people in Singapore, Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. They found that those who are "socially excluded" preferred sounds at high volumes compared to the people who felt "socially accepted," James Cook University (JCU) said in a news release. People also had a preference for louder sounds after being socially excluded.

According to the researchers, the results demonstrated loud sounds tended to make people feel "physically and socially" closer to others. This shows that preferring loud sounds isn't just a matter of wanting to experience it to a louder degree but, also because it eases the need for social connection.

Sound as a 'social comfort'

People tend to be louder when they're with peers than with strangers, study lead, Dr. Adam Wang of JCU, said in the news release, adding that people often think of "vibrant" places as louder than "lifeless" ones. In a way, it's possible that people may be unconsciously using the louder sounds as a "social comfort," JCU said.

"Sound reflects physical and social proximity with other people," Dr. Wang said. "It could explain why people often seem to prefer background noise even when they do not intend to pay attention to it. Such as leaving the television on while doing chores, or even when the noise may potentially interfere with the task at hand, such as listening to music while studying."

"Loud noises are not only desired following social exclusion, they are also effective at mitigating the negative psychological effects of social exclusion, such as social pain, feelings of anger, loneliness, and worsened mood," he added.

Using sound to combat loneliness

Even before the pandemic, a national survey in 2018 had already found loneliness levels to be at an "all-time high," with 20,000 American adults saying they "sometimes or always feel alone," the American Psychological Association (APA) noted. Although it seems quite simple, loneliness actually poses risks for people's mental, cognitive and even physical health.

As such, the researchers' findings show a simple way how people can fight the feelings of loneliness.

"There is potential for this research to be used in settings such as hospitals and retirement homes," Dr. Wang said. "It can also be used for people who are working solitary jobs, living alone, or enduring a COVID-19 quarantine period; cranking the volume up may alleviate negative emotions, presumably because of the sense of companionship it provides."

Music, Earphones, Loneliness Representational image. Photo: Luisella Planeta Leoni/Pixabay