Sound plays an influential part in how we view the world. It gives us social cues and evokes certain emotions, such as a dog barking might instill fear or a baby laughing can cause happiness.
The official term for the study of sound is psychoacoustics, which includes the psychological and physiological responses to any sounds, music and speech. Sound affects our perception of depth, speed and motion, but more interestingly, sound, especially music, is a direct cognitive response to our memories, according to the Independent Hearing Professionals; this response in memory links directly to our emotions. It is also one of the reasons we can remember songs so well from many years ago, as they connect to a memory no matter how small and cause a positive or negative emotion.
Additionally, because sound is associated with memories, we can associate certain sounds with certain events. For example, we can tell the difference between a shriek of fear versus a shriek of happiness based on past experiences and present context. Or when watching horror movies, we know something is going to scare us when the suspenseful music starts to play based on past memories — film directors play off of this.
"Sound effects drive the story," says Ed Hanson, artistic and executive director of Talking Horse Productions. "Sound adds to the realism of the production and allows the audience to be suspended."
Hanson, who directs some of the plays at Talking Horse, says the process of sound production is well thought out and includes what sound effects are called in the script to as well as the musical choices. Hanson says they play music before and during transitions of the play to set the mood and get the audience emerged into the storyline.
"Sound is one of those things people take for granted as it is not a conscious thing," Hanson says, "but we can all appreciate when sound is done well, the impact it has."
This is a reason that sounds are often repeated, so that we memorize them and create appropriate behaviors in the brain to understand situations and responses to those sounds. This can include everything from TV theme songs to real-life situations, such as hearing an ambulance. Noise is all around us, and sounds give context and meaning to that particular noise.