ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Julian Treasure - Sound consultant
Julian Treasure studies sound and advises businesses on how best to use it.

Why you should listen

Julian Treasure is the chair of the Sound Agency, a firm that advises worldwide businesses -- offices, retailers, airports -- on how to design sound in their physical spaces and communication. He asks us to pay attention to the sounds that surround us. How do they make us feel: productive, stressed, energized, acquisitive?

Treasure is the author of the book Sound Business, a manual for effective sound use in every aspect of business. His most recent book, How to be Heard: Secrets for Powerful Speaking and Listening, based on his TED Talk, offers practical exercises to improve communication skills and an inspiring vision for a sonorous world of effective speaking, conscious listening and understanding. He speaks globally on this topic.

More profile about the speaker
Julian Treasure | Speaker | TED.com
TEDGlobal 2009

Julian Treasure: The 4 ways sound affects us

Filmed:
1,730,950 views

Playing sound effects both pleasant and awful, Julian Treasure shows how sound affects us in four significant ways. Listen carefully for a shocking fact about noisy open-plan offices.
- Sound consultant
Julian Treasure studies sound and advises businesses on how best to use it. Full bio

Double-click the English transcript below to play the video.

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Over the next five minutes,
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my intention is to transform your relationship with sound.
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Let me start with the observation that most of the sound around us is accidental,
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and much of it is unpleasant. (Traffic noise)
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We stand on street corners, shouting over noise like this,
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and pretending that it doesn't exist.
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Well, this habit of suppressing sound has meant that our
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relationship with sound has become largely unconscious.
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There are four major ways sound is affecting you all the time,
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and I'd like to raise them in your consciousness today.
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First is physiological. (Loud alarm clocks)
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Sorry about that. I've just given you a shot of cortisol, your fight/flight hormone.
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Sounds are affecting your hormone secretions all the time,
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but also your breathing, your heart rate -- which I just also did --
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and your brainwaves.
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It's not just unpleasant sounds like that that do it.
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This is surf. (Ocean waves)
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It has the frequency of roughly 12 cycles per minute.
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Most people find that very soothing,
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and, interestingly, 12 cycles per minute
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is roughly the frequency of the breathing of a sleeping human.
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There is a deep resonance with being at rest.
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We also associate it with being stress-free
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and on holiday.
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The second way in which sound affects you is psychological.
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Music is the most powerful form of sound that we know
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that affects our emotional state. (Albinoni's Adagio)
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This is guaranteed to make most of you feel pretty sad
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if I leave it on.
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Music is not the only kind of sound, however, which affects your emotions.
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Natural sound can do that too.
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Birdsong, for example, is a sound which most people
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find reassuring. (Birds chirping)
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There is a reason for that. Over hundreds of thousands of years
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we've learned that when the birds are singing, things are safe.
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It's when they stop you need to be worried.
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The third way in which sound affects you is cognitively.
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You can't understand two people talking at once ("If you're listening to this version of")
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("me you're on the wrong track.") or in this case one person talking twice.
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Try and listen to the other one. ("You have to choose which me you're going to listen to.")
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We have a very small amount of bandwidth for processing auditory input,
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which is why noise like this -- (Office noise) --
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is extremely damaging for productivity.
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If you have to work in an open-plan office like this,
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your productivity is greatly reduced.
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And whatever number you're thinking of, it probably isn't as bad as this.
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(Ominous music)
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You are one third as productive in open-plan offices as in quiet rooms.
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And I have a tip for you. If you have to work in spaces like that,
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carry headphones with you, with a soothing sound like birdsong.
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Put them on and your productivity goes back up to triple what it would be.
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The fourth way in which sound affects us is behaviorally.
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With all that other stuff going on, it would be amazing
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if our behavior didn't change.
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(Techno music inside a car) So, ask yourself: Is this person ever going to drive
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at a steady 28 miles per hour? I don't think so.
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At the simplest, you move away from unpleasant sound
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and towards pleasant sounds.
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So if I were to play this -- (Jackhammer) --
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for more than a few seconds, you'd feel uncomfortable;
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for more than a few minutes, you'd be leaving the room in droves.
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For people who can't get away from noise like that,
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it's extremely damaging for their health.
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And that's not the only thing that bad sound damages.
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Most retail sound is inappropriate and accidental, and even hostile,
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and it has a dramatic effect on sales.
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For those of you who are retailers, you may want to look away
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before I show this slide.
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They are losing up to 30 percent of their business
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with people leaving shops faster, or just turning around on the door.
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We all have done it, leaving the area
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because the sound in there is so dreadful.
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I want to spend just a moment talking about
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the model that we've developed, which allows us to start at the top
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and look at the drivers of sound, analyze the soundscape
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and then predict the four outcomes I've just talked about.
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Or start at the bottom,
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and say what outcomes do we want,
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and then design a soundscape to have a desired effect.
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At last we've got some science we can apply.
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And we're in the business of designing soundscapes.
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Just a word on music. Music is the most powerful sound there is,
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often inappropriately deployed.
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It's powerful for two reasons. You recognize it fast,
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and you associate it very powerfully.
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I'll give you two examples. (First chord of The Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night")
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Most of you recognize that immediately.
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The younger, maybe not. (Laughter)
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(First two notes of "Jaws" theme) And most of you associate that with something!
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Now, those are one-second samples of music.
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Music is very powerful. And unfortunately
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it's veneering commercial spaces, often inappropriately.
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I hope that's going to change over the next few years.
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Let me just talk about brands for a moment,
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because some of you run brands. Every brand is out there
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making sound right now.
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There are eight expressions of a brand in sound.
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They are all important. And every brand needs to have guidelines at the center.
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I'm glad to say that is starting to happen now.
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(Intel ad jingle)
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You all recognize that one. (Nokia ringtone) This is the
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most-played tune in the world today.
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1.8 billion times a day, that tune is played.
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And it cost Nokia absolutely nothing.
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Just leave you with four golden rules, for those of you who run businesses,
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for commercial sound.
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First, make it congruent,
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pointing in the same direction as your visual communication.
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That increases impact by over 1,100 percent.
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If your sound is pointing the opposite direction, incongruent,
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you reduce impact by 86 percent.
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That's an order of magnitude, up or down.
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This is important.
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Secondly, make it appropriate to the situation.
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Thirdly, make it valuable. Give people something with the sound.
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Don't just bombard them with stuff.
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And, finally, test and test it again.
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Sound is complex. There are many countervailing influences.
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It can be a bit like a bowl of spaghetti:
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sometimes you just have to eat it and see what happens.
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So I hope this talk has raised sound in your consciousness.
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If you're listening consciously,
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you can take control of the sound around you.
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It's good for your health. It's good for your productivity.
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If we all do that we move to a state
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that I like to think will be sound living in the world.
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I'm going to leave you with a little bit more birdsong. (Birds chirping)
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I recommend at least five minutes a day, but there is no maximum dose.
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Thank you for lending me your ears today.
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(Applause)
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ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Julian Treasure - Sound consultant
Julian Treasure studies sound and advises businesses on how best to use it.

Why you should listen

Julian Treasure is the chair of the Sound Agency, a firm that advises worldwide businesses -- offices, retailers, airports -- on how to design sound in their physical spaces and communication. He asks us to pay attention to the sounds that surround us. How do they make us feel: productive, stressed, energized, acquisitive?

Treasure is the author of the book Sound Business, a manual for effective sound use in every aspect of business. His most recent book, How to be Heard: Secrets for Powerful Speaking and Listening, based on his TED Talk, offers practical exercises to improve communication skills and an inspiring vision for a sonorous world of effective speaking, conscious listening and understanding. He speaks globally on this topic.

More profile about the speaker
Julian Treasure | Speaker | TED.com