LISTEN: The Five Worst Sounds in the Universe

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Teacher scrapes nails on blackboard.

Prepare to cringe. Nails on a chalkboard has company.

Researchers from Newcastle University endured the most spine-tingling sounds to determine the five worst offenders to the human ear. Based on the way our brains and bodies react, the scientists found that nails on a blackboard is only the fifth-worst sound in existence, according to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

And while chalkboards are no longer commonplace in our society, the worst transgressors—a knife and a bottle—certainly are.

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Following up that screeching sound of horribleness that is a knife scraping a bottle is something similar, a fork on glass. Ouch! Beyond that we have chalk on a blackboard in third and a ruler on a bottle in fourth. Fingernails on a blackboard is fifth.

But all the noises have one thing in common: the sounds falls within the frequency range of 2,000 to 5,000 Hz, the same range that includes human screams. Our brains don’t like that much.

As the paper’s author Dr. Sukhbinder Kumar notes, that’s the range where our ears are most sensitive, so the findings weren’t all that surprising. In the study, Kumar and Newcastle researcher Tim Griffiths brought volunteers into the Centre for Neuroimaging at University College, London. From there, the volunteers were subjected to excruciating noises while their brains underwent MRI scans, according to The Guardian. The worse the sound, the more heightened of a response the auditory cortex gave to the amygdala, the area of our brain that regulates negative reactions, the paper says.

“It appears there is something very primitive kicking in,” Kumar writes. “It’s a possible distress signal from the amygdala to the auditory cortex.”

Of the 74 different noises tested out, volunteers got a reprieve when met with babbling water, the most well-adjusted of the sounds.

Want to listen yourself? Here they are — if you dare.

Knife on bottle:

Fork on glass:

Chalk on blackboard:

Ruler on bottle:

Nails on blackboard:

(Audio courtesy of the study’s funder, Wellcome Trust.)

MORE: Does Listening to Music While Working Make You Less Productive
96 comments
MaryMitch
MaryMitch

these don't bother me nearly as much as squeaking styrofoam

tlane29
tlane29

dental

drills on Justin Bieber and Nancy Grace simultaneously together  

tlane29
tlane29

dental drills on Justin Bieber and Nancy Grace simultaneously

together 

targetdestroyed01
targetdestroyed01

The words, "I'm from the government and I am here to help."  TD01

RussinOR
RussinOR

More annoying than all of these sounds?

Leaf blowers!

jones.barry
jones.barry

kid dribbling basketball on sidewalk outside my house for no reason

Jerry Cox
Jerry Cox

You forgot Hillary Clinton's cackle.

Bill Johnson
Bill Johnson

And the number one answer is:  The average obese American in the bathroom.

natshare
natshare

Really? In the UNIVERSE? Amazing, that Time was able to travel the universe, to determine that this little planet of ours has the 5 worst sounds, ANYWHERE!

You forgot to add politicians to the list, though!

ExtremeRC
ExtremeRC

What about Jim Carrey's most annoying sound in "Dumb and Dumber"?

Beersheva
Beersheva

"Fork on glass" sounds like the music in the shower stall scene of Hitchcock's "Psycho".

nobozo2012
nobozo2012

How about Obama waxing eloquently about his abysmal record as a president.

Michael Nicholas
Michael Nicholas

Muslims chanting over a tinny loudspeaker at 5 am. (Think Mosquito in the ear.)

Sheebbee
Sheebbee

The sounds that cats make just before they fight!

Liz Fowler
Liz Fowler

They forgot to put "flat line sound on a heart monitor". 

readyrescue
readyrescue

What about Roseanne singing the National Anthem?

woodbow
woodbow

the neurotic barking of pet dogs!

aliendreams
aliendreams

oh, puhleeze!!! If a screaming baby is not first on the list then it's a bogus list!

aliendreams
aliendreams

Oh, puhleeze!!! If a screaming baby isn't first on this list then your list is bogus.

AngryBuddha
AngryBuddha

Hey is there a way to create the inverse or converse of a sound wave?

Would that create the 5 most pleasant sounds in the universe?

If it does I claim dibs.

traveler128
traveler128

Where's the crying baby? THAT is the worst f*king sound in the universe! And a close second is Sarah Palin's shrill voice.

Neil Hopkins
Neil Hopkins

List is far from complete ... where is 10 minutes of train brakes or Nickelback?

Nicole Barwinski-Luchs
Nicole Barwinski-Luchs

My kids grind their teeth when they sleep  -  I cannot stand that sound!!  Some babies' screams (on or off the air plane) are up there on the list, too.  Could not stand my daughter's cries, was not bothered however by my boys'.  Go figure.

Steve Jessup
Steve Jessup

Chris Christie sitting on the can after a night out at an all you can eat buffet

macphile
macphile

I've never had a problem with nails on a chalkboard, actually. I'm going to view that as a sign of genetic superiority. So there.

Chaz
Chaz

How did they miss the chewing sounds in a Carl's Jr. commercial? I'll take all five over that!

Merritt J Swift
Merritt J Swift

Biden,Polosie,Reed,and Obama's voices. After that was the Windows OS file error message sound that thankfully seems to have disappeared at least on my system .Wait no I have it....car alarms,why bother nobody takes notice anyway and would cheer someone taking a sledgehammer to them.

cpc65
cpc65

Country music!

cpc65
cpc65

The Pink Panther Strikes Again where former Chief Inspector Dreyfus (played by the recently deceased Herbert Lom) puts on the iron glove with the spiked fingers which he then scrapes down a chalkboard to "torture" Prof. Fassbinder's daughter in order to coax him into building the Doomsday Machine. A riot!

Michael Colley
Michael Colley

RUBBING A BALLON 

CHEWING GUM WITH YOUR MOUTH OPEN

Ana Fontes
Ana Fontes

For me, the worst sound is the sound of sweeping a carpet

traveler128
traveler128

Yes, there is. And no, they will all still be as irritating. 

traveler128
traveler128

There is a thing called a vacuum cleaner. Even third world countries have them by now.

nobozo2012
nobozo2012

 He does.  The problem is, there's nothing behind it.  He's a miserable failure as a president.  But he sure can read from a teleprompter.  I'll give you that.

whyshouldicare
whyshouldicare

What, exactly, has he done/not done that makes him a "miserable failure?"  I don't understand the hatred for him.