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Why Fingernails on Blackboards Sound So Horrible

Much time has been spent, over the past century, on working out exactly what it is about the sound of fingernails on a blackboard that’s so unpleasant. A new study pins the blame on psychology and the design of our ear canals.

Previous research on the subject suggested that the sound is acoustically similar to the warning call of a primate, but that theory was debunked after monkeys responded to amplitude-matched white noise and other high-pitched sounds, whereas humans did not. Another study, in 1986, manipulated a recording of blackboard scraping and found that the medium-pitched frequencies are the source of the adverse reaction, rather than the the higher pitches (as previously thought). The work won author Randolph Blake an Ig Nobel Prize in 2006.

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