Penn Medicine researchers discover link between fear and sound perception
Anyone who’s ever heard a Beethoven sonata or a Beatles song knows how powerfully sound can affect our emotions. But it can work the other way as well – our emotions can actually affect how we hear and process sound.
When certain types of sounds become associated in our brains with strong emotions, hearing similar sounds can evoke those same feelings, even far removed from their original context. It’s a phenomenon commonly seen in combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in whom harrowing memories of the battlefield can be triggered by something as common as the sound of thunder. But the brain mechanisms responsible for creating those troubling associations remain unknown.
Now, a pair of researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has discovered how fear can actually increase or decrease the ability to discriminate among sounds depending on context, providing new insight into the distorted perceptions of victims of PTSD. Their study is published in Nature Neuroscience.