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The Effects of the Background Noise of City Life

Urban sounds can have an effect on people -- both physically and mentally. This sonic tour through New York City examines how sounds affect urbanites.
August 3, 2009, 10am PDT | Nate Berg
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From the shock of the alarm clock first thing in the morning to the rattle of the subway to the city's quietest room, the noises of urban places have been shown to impact human brains in interesting ways.

"The surrounding bath of urban sound has mental as well as physical effects, according to environmental psychologist Arline Bronzaft, who has spent more than 30 years studying how people perceive and respond to noise. Currently with the Council on the Environment of New York City, she has addressed noise problems as diverse as a neighbor's too-loud TV, the banging of a bed during sex, and a mysterious whistling in the middle of the night that disturbed Brooklynites in the 1990s. (It turned out to be a signal used by a ring of drug dealers.) I stopped by Bronzaft's home on the Upper East Side to learn more about why noise matters. As we sat among bookcases filled with decades of research, she explained that not everyone reacts to noise the same way, but the negative effects of unwanted sounds on health are real and measurable."

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Published on Friday, July 24, 2009 in Discover
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