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What Sound Provokes a Pavlovian Reaction In You?

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A fascinating examination of the HBO “static sound” in Playboy got us thinking about the sounds we hear that trigger a conditioned response. HBO’s now-famous static primes the brain to expect the start of a show immediately thereafter. What other noise gets you going?

The Playboy article postulates that “we hear the sound of that TV flip on, and we salivate for the red meat of well-made fiction. We crave it,” and the sound itself is now the subject of academic examinations of successful branding.

For me, the first noise that comes to mind as intertwined with an action and forever programmed into my brain is the screech of an AOL dial-up connection being made:

Hearing it brings up a host of memories — all of a sudden I’m 16 and living for my internet connection, where the fantastical worlds I inhabited were more real and important to me than my humdrum adolescent existence “IRL.” It also evokes intense feelings of frustration concerning the many times AOL was “busy” and would drop your call, forcing you to hear this sound again and again.


Honestly, even just seeing a GIF of the AOL screen makes my brain supply that noise. What sound is inextricably linked for you to an expectation of action — be it punishment or reward or, as in the case of AOL, a little bit of both?


GIF via Tumblr