Hear this – your brain is infected with sound..! That’s right, new research from Canada suggests that almost all of us have had a sound virus in our brains at some stage. You hear a song on the radio that morning and by that lunchtime meeting it is still rattling around inside your head as you try to listen to your boss droning on and on. But what if I ask you to think of your favourite holiday destination? Go on, shut your eyes and picture yourself there. Wait a moment – you’ll hear those seagulls or the waves crashing on the beach. You might even smell the sun tan lotion, the ice cream and the vinegar on the chips.
Our senses all work in tandem together. Hear a sound and you see an image. For instance, if I say the word “EastEnders” to people in the UK, they’ll almost certainly hear in their head the “doof doofs” (drum beats at the start of the theme tune of this TV soap opera) and they’ll see in their mind’s eye, the satellite image of the Thames in London which is the opening shot for every episode. One word – and you get sounds and pictures in your head. Powerful stuff.
You can test this yourself. I just need to say “Hey Jude” and you can hear the Beatles singing it. Or “Abbey Road” and you can see the fab four walking across the zebra crossing. Or what about “9, 11” – you can see those jets bound for the twin towers and hear those alarms, screams and sounds of panic that filled our ears as the TV reports fed us that dreadful event.
Whether it is sound, image or, indeed, smell you only need a small trigger, such as an individual word and your mind recalls things quickly. The Canadian research comes at the same time as a neurological study which shows that sound memories are laid down in our brains rapidly. Neuroscientists have demonstrated that sound memory is quick and robust, indicating the importance it must have – otherwise why have a system that records the sounds in our heads so quickly? In other words, sound is a fundamental trigger for us. Which begs the question – how much sound do you include in your website to help improve engagement with your audience.
And sound could have more importance for websites than we might think. A study published last year showed that sound is processed in the brain in the same way as visual stimuli. We use the same brain mechanisms to process sound as we do for pictures. This could be why when we hear a sound, we see a picture.
One thing we know about engagement is you get more of it when you stimulate more than one sense at a time in your website visitors. If you only give them text, you are less likely to engage – unless that text triggers sound and visual cues for the reader. So, take a look back over my first couple of sentences above. There are sound words such as “hear”, “song”, “radio”, “rattling”, “droning”, “crashing” – all of which help trigger your auditory system into action.There are also visual words, such as “picture”, “image”, “beach”, “lunchtime meeting”, “seagull” – all of which help trigger your visual system into working. With just a few words, your visual and auditory systems have been pushed into action (whoops, I used a “kinaesthetic” word there – something indicating 3D movement).
When your website copy is filled with words that trigger sounds – even if you haven’t got sound on your page – you are likely to be producing images in people’s minds. Combine that with visual and kinaesthetic words and you are writing material that is even more engaging.
The Canadian research and the neurological information just published show that sound triggers have real importance for human memory; you should therefore never neglect the use of sound on your web site. But the sound does not have to be real. You just have to create it inside your vistors’ heads. And if you think that’s not true, just answer this question. Which medium has the best pictures – TV or Radio…?