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Feeling lonely? Try cranking up the volume

TORONTO — With COVID-19 keeping many people isolated and alone, one way to combat the loneliness is by cranking the volume up on your favourite song, show or movie, new research suggests.

Researchers at Australia’s James Cook University found that people who felt socially isolated preferred higher volumes, from music to background noise, compared to those who felt they were socially accepted.

“Loud noises are not only desired following social exclusion, they are also effective at mitigating the negative psychological effects of social exclusion, such as social pain, feelings of anger, loneliness, and worsened mood,” lead author Adam Wang from James Cook University said in a press release.

The researchers believe that it’s not just the physical component of loud noises that the listener is looking for when they crank up the volume.

“It seems that preferences for louder volumes may not be solely driven by physiological reasons, such as wanting to obtain more sensory pleasure from loud music, but by a need for social connection,” Wang added.

Wang and his colleagues think this breakthrough could help people who are struggling through continued isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Being able to turn on a loud movie, show or album is a safer alternative than gathering with others.

“Sound appears to be a very convenient and cost-free alternative that could help in these circumstances,” said Wang.

Sound, the researchers say, gives the listener a sense of closeness or connectedness.

“Sound reflects physical and social proximity with other people,” he said. “We think it’s because lively and vibrant places tend to be louder than lifeless and barren ones.”

People who leave the TV on while doing chores or cooking dinner, or turning on music to study or read knowing they won’t listen to the audio are also participating in the aural comfort that noise provides.

Because sound can be easily accessed, Wang hopes that this research can be used further to help all sorts of people experiencing various forms of isolation.

“There is potential for this research to be used in settings such as hospitals and retirement homes,” he said. “It can also be used for people who are working solitary jobs, living alone, or enduring a COVID-19 quarantine period; cranking the volume up may alleviate negative emotions, presumably because of the sense of companionship it provides.”

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