Science Project:

Is Whining the Most Annoying Sound Ever?

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Research Questions:

  • Which sounds most detract from test subjects’ speed and accuracy in completing simple subtraction tasks?
  • Do any of the above findings correlate with age, gender, or caretaker status?

Recent studies have indicated that whining isn’t just culturally annoying, but might be evolutionarily hardwired into human nature. In tests comparing people’s responses to whining and other “attachment sounds” such as infant crying and “motherese” - sounds that scientists have long known to have evolutionary/neurological significance (regardless of parental status) - as well as to other attention-getting sounds, whining was actually found to be the most distracting of all. In this project you will test this hypothesis for yourself.

Materials:

  • Audio recorder and player
  • Computer, printer, and paper
  • Pencils for test-taking
  • Quiet room
  • Timer
  • 20 or more test subjects
  • Paper and pencil for recording and analyzing data

Experimental Procedure

  1. Record several minutes of each of the following sounds:
    • a baby crying
    • “motherese” or “baby talk” (the babbling of a parent to a baby)
    • a child’s whining
    • normal conversation
    • loud machinery such as saws
    • sirens
  2. Write and print copies (one copy of each per test subject) of seven simple subtraction worksheets.
  3. When you meet your subjects, collect some basic background information for use in your analysis:
    • Gender
    • Age
    • Parental status (i.e. is he/she a parent)
    • Siblings and their ages
  4. Have subjects sit in the quiet room and do each of the seven worksheets. Have subjects do one worksheet in silence and each of the other six while listening to each of the six sounds recorded above. (Be sure to indicate on each of the worksheets which sound was being played.)
  5. Record how long it took each subject to complete each worksheet.
  6. Score the worksheets for number of subtraction problems correct.
  7. Analyze the results. Did subjects take longer or make more errors on the worksheets when listening to certain sounds? Was there any correlation between the effect of certain sounds on subjects and subjects’ gender, age, parental status, or childcare responsibilities (this might be inferred by number of younger siblings)?

Terms/Concepts: whining, attachment vocalization, motherese

Reference: 'Whines, Cries, and Motherese: Their Relative Power to Distract," by Rosemarie Sokol Chang and Nicholas S. Thumpson, Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology 2011, 5(2), 10-20, http://137.140.1.71/jsec/articles/volume5/issue2/Chang_Vol5Iss2.pdf.

Author: Shelly Smith
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