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Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice. The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

“We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.”

When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

As Herman Melville once wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

silence strength

Silence relieves stress and tension.

It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech.

“This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.

Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.

Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.

Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.



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Loud Noise Exposure Linked to Heart Disease Risk


(Reuters Health) – People with long-term exposure to loud noise at work or in leisure activities may be at increased risk of heart disease, a U.S. study finds.

Researchers found the strongest link in working-age people with high-frequency hearing loss, which is typically the result of chronic noise exposure.

“Compared with people with normal high-frequency hearing, people with bilateral high-frequency hearing loss were approximately two times more likely to have coronary heart disease,” said lead author Dr. Wen Qi Gan of the University of Kentucky College of Public Health in Lexington.

Past research has already linked noise exposure, especially in workplaces, to coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and other illnesses, Gan and his colleagues write in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. But many of these studies lacked individual information about actual noise exposure, relying instead on average decibel levels in the person’s environment.

High-frequency hearing loss, the researchers say, is a better indicator of exposure to loud noise over time.


To investigate the connection with heart disease, the researchers looked at data on 5,223 participants in national health surveys between 1999 and 2004. Participants ranged in age from 20 to 69 at the time they were surveyed.

Overall, people with high-frequency hearing loss in both ears were about twice as likely to have coronary heart disease compared to those with normal high-frequency hearing. Among those age 50 and under, who were also most likely to be exposed to loud noise at work, the heart disease risk was increased four-fold.

There was no link to heart disease among people with one-sided hearing loss or loss of lower-frequency hearing, the study team notes, further supporting the idea that noise exposure is the culprit.

The study only looked at people at one time point, however, and cannot prove that noise or hearing loss are direct causes of heart disease. The researchers also acknowledge that they relied on study participants’ own recollections about their work and leisure-time noise exposure.

Nonetheless, Gan said, accumulating evidence suggests that exposure to loud noise can increase the risk of coronary heart disease.

Gan advises people to eliminate or reduce excessive noise exposure in the home and workplace. “Using earmuffs and earplugs can reduce personal noise exposure,” he told Reuters Health by email.

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Ont. couple seeks injunction to stop wind-farm expansion

‘I’m not interested in being a guinea pig,’ says resident,

citing health concerns of turbines

Posted: Sep 11, 2012

A rural Ontario couple is heading to court to halt development of a large wind farm near the shores of Lake Huron – at least until Health Canada completes a new two-year study on the potential risks of living next to industrial wind turbines.
Lawyers for Shawn and Trish Drennan sent notice Monday to the Ontario government announcing they are seeking an injunction against expanding the Kingsbridge 2 wind farm near Goderich, Ont., by Alberta-based Capital Power.
They argue that in light of Health Canada’s announcement in July to study the health of 2,000 residents across Canada who live near wind farms, all construction should be stopped on the 140 turbines set to go up near the Drennans’ farm — several of which would be located within 700 metres of their home.

“There is no real set understanding how these things are going to affect people and I’m not interested in being a guinea pig!” Shawn Drennan told CBC News in an interview at his farm in Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh Township.

Some of Ontario’s first industrial wind turbines were erected within 300 to 400 metres from people’s homes. After complaints, the government changed its regulations to require a setback distance of at least 550 metres.

But Shawn Drennan says he’s worried about the health of his family, as well as the effect turbine noise and vibrations could have on his livestock and soil, fearing it will kill off moles and earth worms that he says are vital to his “no-till” soil and acreage.
“Until they have the final results, they should have a moratorium,” he said.
If the injunction request is granted, it could have far-reaching implications for hundreds of wind-farm developments across Canada.
A home hundreds of metres
from a turbine that’s part of the Kingsbridge wind-farm project
near Goderich, Ont. (Dave Seglins/CBC)

Halting turbines needs evidence, health minister says

The federal health study is adding fuel to a controversy that has dogged the Ontario government since it began approving thousands of wind turbines in rural areas in a bid to develop a “clean, green” energy sector as an alternative to coal and nuclear power.
Provincial ministers have long maintained there is no scientific evidence that wind turbines directly cause ill health, dismissing concerns and complaints from residents.

However, CBC News hasdocumented scores of people who reported ringing in their ears, vertigo, sleeplessness and other stress-related ailments they attribute to living downwind from turbines.
Several residents complain about the audible swooshing noises from turbine blades and transformer stations. Some even claim they were forced to abandon their homes and were unable to sell their properties due to their proximity to the wind farm. Others have sold their properties directly to the wind-power companies who demanded confidentiality clauses prohibiting those residents from discussing the sale price or any health problems they may have suffered.
Shortly after announcing the wind-turbine study in July, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq told CBC News: “We heard from Canadians their questions and concerns about wind power. Right now, we do not have the scientific evidence to make an informed decision on whether there is a health impact or not.”

Turbines said to be ‘safe’ distance from homes

Capital Power acknowledges it has heard the residents’ health concerns but a spokesperson says there are no plans to delay construction of the new 140 turbines near Goderich set to go up in 2013.
“We have been planning this project for some time,” Laurie Wilson told CBC News. “We remain confident that following these provincial regulations wind is a safe and healthy form of power generation.”
Ontario’s energy minister also indicated in an email that the government has no plans to postpone construction on thousands of additional turbines approved across the province, despite the Health Canada study. The Ontario government maintains its current regulations for wind farms protect the public.

Yet the Environmental Review Board, the province’s wind-power regulator, concluded in July 2011 that there is no question turbines can cause ill health – and that what needs to be answered is: How close is too close when it comes to wind farms next to homes?
The Drennans’ lawyer, Julian Falconer, argues the government is basing the regulations on guesswork, without due diligence to ensure people’s health is protected.
“If you surround the Drennan farm with 140 wind turbines, over 400 feet [122 metres] high each of them, and you don’t know the connection between the noise emanating from these massive structures and health effects, why in the world would you subject them to it first, and then get a report a later? It boggles the mind,” Falconer said.
“Now may be the time to slow things down so that Health Canada can give a ‘yea or nay’ on the health impacts of these things, and most important give some guidance on what are reasonable criteria for putting them around people’s homes. I mean this is not just a NIMBY [not in my backyard] issue.”
source: CBC