Aspects on silence and biopsychosocial-cultural health

(Suggestions: Those of you enjoying silence and appreciate/benefit it and are not interested in scientific elaboration, I suggest do not read more – enjoy you silence! Those of you interested more of some aspects on silence or those of you who think something is wrong with nature silence or with your relation to silence – go on reading! NB although science can never ”say”, it is scientists based on their paradigm how ”says” .. but we can do say, e.g. ”there is a broad consensus that …” having said this, I do recommend reading also the reference below!)

1. Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think
2. BvS aspects on Silence – from a broad perspective
3. Some more comments (new text 2018-04-04)

  1. Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

Rebecca Beris – In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”. – Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.
A 2013 study on mice  published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice. The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising.

The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning. The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

“We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.” In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence
A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection.

In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.”

When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues. When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world. The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

As Herman Melville once wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

Silence relieves stress and tension.
It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones.

If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones. A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

“This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.

Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.

Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.
The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise. 

Summation – Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.
References – Featured photo credit: Mind Bodyvia

2. BvS- About silence

At first, silence seems presence of no sound, exceptions of sounds. But then, we perhaps start to think, “no sounds .. does it really exists”? If no, what do is the meaning by the word silence? Example from “A loud crash of thunder broke the silence of the night.” Here it is a change from – to, where the difference “speaks – and “My request for help was met with silence (= I received no answer)”. That is quiet or no speaking. Change in auditory expressions is also related to different precognitive and cognitive appraisal which vary between and within individuals over situations and time.

So, silence is not quite simple, or? We can be pragmatic and operationalize silence to reduction in externals auditory (and associated) inputs enabling less conscious and/or not conscious attention and thereby less energy consuming and thereby open up for sound independent processes.

But, when we highlight and discuss silence and its importance, we need to do some distinctions.

  1. External silence – natural or artificial (human produced)
  2. Internal silence – sound per se or sound and other sensations and thoughts/images


Habituation means adjustment to what ever is going on .. it functions as a kind of repeated operant conditioning procedure where goings-on of not important relevance interpreted/appraised is attention down relegated. This means that we adopt even to biopsychosocial stress if we can not reduce it or (unconsciously or consciously) reduce it. This means that we can adopt to events that is biopsychosocial stressful (interpreted) at psychosocial levels but not at physiological and thereby gradually increase psychophysiological/biological dysfunctions – which in turn gradually develops stress related diseases and mental problems! When we suddenly enter a new quite context, this is like “put the cart before the horse” – absence of habituation to stress becomes a stress generator itself! Habituation function here as challenged by a confusing new kind of operational conditioning situation not anticipated!

State dependent learning refers simply to that the actual state (also emotional) goings-on influence new inputs! That is, that processing new information is influenced by the state just goings-on! When we approach a new situation, like suddenly silence, this can be a kind of chock for the habitual-automatic state of affairs! Exchange the word chock with autonomic nervous system stress reactions. That is, such state “objectively” a relaxed situation is appraised as a changing treat against the “norm”/habits!

Above argues that silence is per se not = relaxed peaceful generating states! Of course, reduced or absence (?) of external inputs is – reduction of inputs! But if an individual is perceived/appraised this is peaceful is a consequence of an individuals precognitive and cognitive interpretation of the situation which here also can include a dissonance between precognitive and cognitive information processing and its elaborations (NB important you understand the consequences of the evolution of our brain!

(Habitual processes – is adjustment to what is up –
Habitual state or habits are .. habitual behaviors including conditioned emotional state/expressions – phasic and basic
Habitat is the kind of natural environment in which a particular organism species lives. It is characterized by both physical and biological features. A species’ habitat is those places where it can find food, shelter, protection and mates for reproduction –

Now proceeding with the text; When we discuss focus on different perspective on human behaviors, we need to realize that “adjustment to goings-on” in the tribes’ cultural development is of survival importance. Especially the dynamics of focus of attention during actions and rest is critical. We need to realize that different cultures developed during thousands of years develop different strategies to cope with this! But the cultural development lasts few hundreds of years has completely change the basic homo sapience´s survival – perhaps rally realized by us still alive!

Simply we can understand this when we think about our brain is developed during millions of years while the specific human brain only has been “place upon” the millions of years last few hundred thousand of years! AND during this short evolutionary time perspective totally change the basic circumstances! Completely! Our basic stress systems are developed for what was relevant during millions of years! Not surprising stress is not up to date but still going strong effectively – add old (mammalian and reptilian) brain crooked leg in the way for new (human) brain!

But still – data indicate that our human brain hosting millions of evolutions still can generate data which indicate that silence is of relevance! Promising, that is, if we take to us seriously the “messages”, which many do not notice or take time for.

Below I try to summarize some of my own aspects collected during the years about how we can address silence from a health creating perspective.

If we see silence as absence of external inputs we will fail, while if we are not living in a vacuum, there are always some external sounds, of many we do have habituated to and thereby do not notice. On the other hand if we see silence as absence from external inputs that exists but do not disturb us we will be enable internal active or passive recovery, refreshing, relaxing, restoring, resting with or without reasoning/elaborations steady states – physiologically and psychologically!

One way is to observe/discuss to exclude artificial sounds and promote come into contact with and experience the “natural nature”, where sounds are a harmony with natures “behaviors” – assumed probably internalized during millions of years represented in our genes and epigenics expressions! That is, what could be referred to as expressions of minimal “civilized” human influences.

For some this can facilitate a peaceful state of relevance for recreation and health promoting processes!

For some – in different degrees – such silence can produce an extreme stressful reaction. Why? Stress addiction is the answer! How come? Stress addiction means that we have (often gradually) adopted, habituated to a constant stressful situation/environment/life .. automatically surviving overflow of inputs! Lappsjuka in old Swedish is translated usually to “Cabin fever”, but means (in Swedish) suddenly being faced with the “nature of silence” and thereby stressed by absence of overflow of inputs. BUT here we can find some diagnostic values – similar to a few days headache related to absence of coffer – telling us that “Ops need to include dynamic real resting in my daily life for obtaining sound health development”!

Time to include the concept of Safe Place (SP – see more about development of SP at …) in our life is the message!

  1. Some can directly realize it and can directly change in a for them referenced way
  2. Some can do it while some person says so – external locus of control – obeying in child-parent position may be a starting point but probably not a way to proceed growing with the age process (more about learned helplessness elsewhere, e.g. in the COOL, Chief of One Own´s Life)
  3. Some can learn about the message promoting learning and practicing SP or similar!
  4. Some really get, even huge, problems with dealing/coping with silence! Here we can clinically help a lot! If motivated by observing the “silence-problem”, individuals can do a psychophysiological stress profile test where silence is a specific condition among others including capacity test condition for changing negative stress reactions! Data can be used as (a) Dynamic diagnostic test as well as outcome measure and (b) Guide lines for measures including education and tailored practice – including integrated biofeedback!

Summarizing; silence, mind-body resting etc. is decisive for our health promotion hand in hand with actions. We can habituate to too much inputs overflow in our life and thereby do not observed/understand this and gradually organize without realize it development of unhealth and diseases! Silence can be very different between individuals. It can be open the window and breath relaxed (given air is ok) for a few minutes regularly many times a day, take a walk/jog, use ear protection and visualize your favorite place in nature sitting in your favorite chair … when you think about this probably ideas “popup” in terms of memories /your have totally forgotten) or new creative ideas … you way is open for exciting creative health promoting opportunities … go for it and my your forces be with you!

3. Some more comments

Actually, much more are to be considered if we really try to cover biopsychosocial-cultural physical systems integrating perspective. But, as we lack much knowledge this will not be complete and we lack also tools to elaborate on too complex systems interactions – independent how cleaver we believe we are. Will we then somehow transform such complexity, not well understood, to practice considering also individuals´ use (moving from nomothetic to ideographic levels), then .. we are lost, in spite of good intentions and commitments!

But still some more need to be added:
1. Negative ions: Marian Diamond, a professor of neuroanatomy at the University of California, Berkeley, has found that levels of negative ions are inversely related to levels of serotonin in the brain. Negative ions suppress serotonin levels in much the same way that natural sunlight suppresses melatonin. Hence the invigorating effect of fresh air and sunshine and the correspondingly depressed feelings associated with being closed in and dark. If you deplete the air of negative ions, you experience an increase in serotonin and its attendant drowsiness and relaxation—not what you want when mental agility is demanded. Diamond’s research (1988)[2], along with other information on ions, is summarized in Yepsen (1987).[3]

See also e.g.

  1. Indoor versus Outdoor Air. There are many different ideas on air in different context. If we make it simple (when complex and contradictory), at least I base my own decisions on how I feel given I do not suspect some basics is wrong (as clever, masked marketing brainwashing). Especially when I have suffered from severe inflammation, I have noticed (placebo or no) a great different between sleeping with open window (outside fresh air!). I have not spent time to scientifically look for evidence I(priority for other focuses).

(A few lines mostly for teachers ”Indoor versus Outdoor Air: What’s the Difference?” From Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, an interesting pedagogical approach giving ideas? )

If we consider our brain host millions of evolution and information processing is just last few thousands of years indoors, this realization is enough motivation for me to regularly make pauses and a brief walk every or every 2-3 hours while working – refreshing, relaxing, removing waste, repeatedly done!

3. More will probably come …