Past Exhibition

The 5 Most Annoying Sounds In The World.
The 2020 Summer Blockbuster Exhibition
Curated by John Kannenberg
20 June – 30 September 2020


Exposition Space is the Museum of Portable Sound’s temporary exhibit gallery. The Exposition Space is housed in our Frank Gehry Wing along with our exclusive Members Room.

What are the five most annoying sounds in the world?

Two studies published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (2008, 2012) examined the responses of multiple groups of students at Newcastle University who listened to preselected groups of different sounds. The students’ responses were used to determine the most annoying sounds in the world for human beings – the top five of which are presented in this exhibition.

Each of the five most annoying sounds is an example of a gride: a grating, grinding, or scraping noise.

These types of sounds have been the subject of previous studies of annoyance, but in the 2008 study they were, for the first time, intermixed with other types of sounds including human and animal vocalisations, weather sounds, musical instruments, and machines. The griding sounds proved once again to be the most annoying sounds of the bunch.

Human reactions of annoyance to sounds is thought to be controlled by the amygdalae, two small, acorn-shaped clusters of nuclei, one located in each hemisphere of the brains of humans and other mammals. The amygdalae communicate with other portions of the brain to form emotional responses and memories, but are also believed to be involved in a surprising number of other experiences such as anxiety, social interaction, sexual orientation, alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even political orientation.

Our exhibition presents the five most annoying sounds in the world – the same recordings used in the studies – each played over and over again for exactly one minute, beginning with the least annoying and ending with the scientifically determined Most Annoying Sound in the World.

They are:

5. Fingernails on a blackboard

4. A ruler scraped along a glass bottle

3. Chalk screeching across a blackboard

2. A fork rubbed against a drinking glass

1. A knife rubbed against a glass bottle

Can you pass this test of endurance? Can you make it through listening to all five sounds for a full minute each?

Can you #SurviveAllFive?

This exhibition is FREE with standard museum admission

While you’re here…

…we need your help. For four years, we have managed to keep admission to the Museum of Portable Sound free for all. But this model hasn’t proven to be sustainable. If you value what we do, and would like to help us continue to fulfil our mission of bringing the culture of sound to the world one visitor at a time, please consider making a donation or supporting us long-term on Patreon.

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