Those Noisy Neighbors

Noisy neighbors are always a pain. Of course we are never noisy, well, not like those neighbors. Our music or TVs are always just loud enough for us to enjoy what’s going on and we turn things off at a reasonable time, don’t we?

Well, maybe so, but we’d better not ask the neighbors or they may also start complaining about noisy neighbors. Clearly, one aspect of the problem is dense urban dwelling, but the other aspect leads us into a wonderland of our perceptions and perspectives.

In order to check this out quantitatively rather than anecdotally, Desantis et al have done some experiments and their data hit the sidewalks yesterday in PLoS ONE (1).

They signed up a dozen young people for a price of €10 per hour to press a button when a hand on a clock got to their name. There was another person, who they thought was also a participant, whose name also appeared on the clock face but on a different part. The trick was that when they pressed the button a buzzer might or might not go off. There were significant apparent arbitrary delays built in, so that the participant had an added element of uncertainty.

They then had to listen to a sound that they were clearly certain that the other person had generated so that they could gauge the loudness of theirs against. With a variety of delays and levels of sound they had to think quite hard.

Of course, social and cognitive scientists don’t usually play fair and the sounds that they thought the other person had generated was one that they had. The authors are triumphant in that they say that if we think we are the originator of the noise, however unpleasant, we are convinced that we were quieter than when that other person was responsible.

Clearly, it always our noisy neighbors who are at fault. We rest our case.


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