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Noise leads to ‘learned deafness’ for natural sounds

Noise pollution

According to US researchers, the constant increase in noise pollution may let people lose their ability to hear natural sounds. “This ‘learned deafness’ is a real issue”, said Kurt Fristrup from the National Park Service Division of Natural Sounds and Night Skies at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Jose (California).

In the past ten years, the scientist and his team studied noise pollution at about 600 sites in US national parks. In more than half of the sites, the average noise level was three decibels higher due to motorboat or airplane noise than in locations without this type of noise. “I was mainly surprised about the ubiquity of airplane noise, even in the remotest places”, said Fristrup. According to estimates, noise pollution will more than double in the next 30 years.

On the one hand, noise made by cars and airplanes drowns natural sounds such as bird song or tumbling water. And on the other, the effect is even stronger due to the fact that many people constantly listen to music wearing earphones. “We are conditioning ourselves to ignore the information coming into our ears. The gift that we’re born with – to be able to hear things that are hundreds of metres away, all these incredibly subtle sounds – it is in danger of being lost”, warned Fristrup.

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