By Dr Stan Steindl, Clinical Psychologist
The world is becoming increasingly loud and cluttered. The noise around us can help to accentuate the noise within us. As a result, people often find themselves looking for silence inside and out. And the science is starting to show that silence is much more important to the brain than we might think.
Silence has important benefits for the brain and the mind.
A recent study by Kirste et al (2013) found that mice who were exposed to two hours of silence per day developed new cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory, learning and emotion. Silence, quite literally, allows our brains to grow.
Even from a practical level, silence helps us restore cognitive functions that have been impaired by too much noise. Hygge et al (2002) found that attention, focus, and problem solving, strongly affected by too much noise, can all be restored by offering ourselves periods of silence.
When the brain is “resting”, as in times of silence, it is much more able to engage in self-reflection, which is a psychological task of reflecting on one’s own personality, values and characteristics. Moran (2016) explores the processes behind self-reflection. Silence allows us to think about profound things in an imaginative way.
Noise has been found to cause stress and tension in humans, even at levels that does not cause hearing loss. Silence, on the other hand, can prove to be relaxing, sometimes even more relaxing that listening to “relaxing music”.
Silence: A powerful tool to help cultivate compassion?
If silence can (1) help our attention and focus, (2) create a state of calm and relaxation, and (3) allow us to move into a mode of self-reflection, then perhaps silence is an additional component to providing the focused inward attention necessary to develop the values and abilities to care for one another, and prevent or relieve the suffering of others. Thus, perhaps silence can be a powerful tool to cultivate compassion.
For more information on Dr Steindl and the team of Psychologists at our Morningside and Newmarket practice; visit www.psychologyconsultants.com.au
Hygge, S., Evans, G.W., Bullinger, M.A. (2002). Prospective study of some effects of aircraft noise on cognitive performance in schoolchildren. Psychological Science, 13(5), 469-474.
Kirste, I., Nicola, Z., Kronenberg, G., Walker, T.L., Liu, Robert C., Kempermann, G. (2013). Is silence golden? Effects of auditory stimuli and their absence on adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Brain Structure and Function, 220(2), 1221-1228.
Moran, J.M. (2016). Cognitive neuroscience of self-reflection. In J.R. Absher & J. Cl
outier (Eds.), Neuroimaging personality, social cognition, and character. (pp. 205-219). San Diego, CA, US: Elsevier Academic Press