Our Brains Need Silence Much More Than We Think, Says Science

When is the last time you indeed were in silence? Sure, you may sit in silence while we work. Sure, you may sit in silence while you stream your favorite show on Netflix. However, that isn’t silence. Your brain is working rapidly to complete your daily work or working to absorb content from a television show.

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You are not in pure silence. You also likely have other avenues of things making noise in your brain. You’re likely in several text conversations, checking social media or creating a weekly grocery list. In our over-connected world, it seems like silence has become a thing of the past.

In fact, in 2001, a team of neuroscientists at Washington University led by the lead scientist Marcus Raichle collected brain scan data from participants who were subjected to different mental tasks, like maths and word games. The paper published by Raichle and his colleagues showed that our brains are actively internalizing and constantly evaluating a wealth of information, even when the mind is technically resting.

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Finland’s Tourist Board launched a global campaign in 2011 that brought to light the power of silence and showcased how truly rare it has become to find absolute silence. Finland was lagging as a tourist destination because there was not much happening and that the country’s landmarks could not compete with other countries.

The marketing team realized that the quiet and silence that could be found in Finland, paired with the pristine nature the area boasted, were strengths and not weaknesses. The team chose to lean into the idea and came up with the slogan “Silence, Please.”

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The breathtaking imagery showed a single person or figure surrounded by nature. The campaign brought to light the fact that we are rarely alone to be with the calm that true silence brings. The campaign was incredibly simple. However, it showcased how cluttered and noisy our world has become, encouraging people to seek out their serenity of a quiet location like Finland.

While Finland created the campaign to promote tourism, they really hit the nail on the head as far as the science behind attracting people to find silence and peacefulness.

Silence Can Actually Grow Your Brain

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According to the study, Neural Code—Neural Self-information Theory on How Cell-Assembly Code Rises from Spike Time and Neuronal Variability, by Meng Li1,2 and Joe Z. Tsien, "The brain appears to use the duration of silence to encrypt information.” So, is silence golden indeed? Keep reading.

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A fascinating 2013 study, "Is silence golden? Effects of auditory stimuli and their absence on adult hippocampal neurogenesis", published in The National Center for Biotechnology Information monitored how the brains of mice were affected by the presence or absence of silence each day. Scientists exposed one group of mice to two hours of silence each day.

The other group did not receive daily exposure to silence. The group of mice that received two hours of silence began growing new cells in their brain’s hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that deals with learning, emotion, and memory. Silence can help positively grow your brain.

Silence Gives You Brain Power

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Silence helps your brain to gain true rest. Even when you are resting, your brain is always working. When you allow your brain to take a break from focusing on the noise created by goal-oriented tasks your brain gains a type of quiet time. This calm, quiet time gives your brain the freedom to self-reflect.

The result of self-reflection is the empowerment of your brain to truly digest the larger picture and to discover where it lies in your body’s external and internal realms. Scientist Joseph Moran and his colleagues stated in In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, that when the brain receives true silence it creates a “conscious workspace.” The brain is then free to think about things in a deeper, more profound manner.

Silence In Relation To Stress

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It’s no secret that noise leads to stress. Keep in mind that noise doesn’t have to be specifically actual audible noise. It could be the noise of consistently checking emails or the noise of a list of tasks that need to be completed.

According to this article published in the American Psychological Association, anything that is taking up space in your brain’s activity is classified as noise. However, actual audible noise is the most common. When you are sleeping the brain is still picking up on sound waves as electrical stimulation.

Silence Increases Efficiency

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According to this article published in the American Psychological Association, noise pollution not only comes with stress, but it can also have a detrimental effect on the way we perform everyday tasks. Noise pollution is known to have the greatest negative effect on memory, attention during reading and problem-solving skills. The lack of silence strips your brain of the ability for a deeper reboot, which can often hinder your ability to perform to your highest capabilities.

The Effects of Noise on Children at School: A Review, by Bridget Shield and Julie Dockrell, published in Researchgate, reviews the research on the effect of noise on school going children. The paper concludes that while you will still be able to perform your tasks at work or at school, the chances are that the introduction of silence will enable you to perform at a much more effective and successful rate. 

For example, students who attend school in areas near highways or railroads have overall lower reading scores and their cognitive and language skills develop at a slower rate than those students exposed to less noise pollution.

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There are many ways to introduce silence into your life, even if you are bombarded with noise. You don’t need to travel to Finland and immerse yourself into a quiet forest to find silence and peacefulness. You can look for a quiet park where you allow yourself to disconnect from your phone and simply soak in the world around you.

You don’t need a book or a plan. Simply focusing on bringing in quiet and peace into your life will bring in the type of silence that your brain needs to fully reboot and function at a higher cognitive rate. However, Finland doesn’t seem like a bad backup plan!

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What do you think about the level of silence in your life? Are you ever truly disconnected from your phone or from the needs of your work? If you found the article insightful, feel free to spread this message about silence and help everyone around you to take the time to slow down a bit.