The World's 10 Most Addictive Sounds

Researchers identify some of the most "addictive" sounds in commerce and nature.

ByABC News
February 23, 2010, 3:22 PM

Feb. 24, 2010— -- A thick, grilled hamburger, an inviting stretch of a white-sand beach, a nearly naked man or woman.

Advertisers make their millions by using such things to tease our sense of sight, but new research suggests that they should pay more attention to our sense of sound.

Neuromarketer and best-selling author Martin Lindstrom, who uses the tools of neuroscience to help businesses better understand their customers, recently partnered with music and sound design firm Elias Arts to identify the "most addictive sounds in the world."

Though the researchers referred to the sounds as "addictive," they mean that in the sense of generating a response, not that people are addicted to the sounds themselves.

"We have all those top 10s of everything, but most top 10s are based on the visual sense," he said. "What we realized in another study is the most prominent sense we have [when we see a commercial] is not the sense of sight or smell, but the sense of sound."

Building on previously published neuroscience studies, the researchers wired up 50 volunteers and monitored their pupil, brainwave and facial muscle activity as they listened to 50 everyday and culturally significant sounds.

They learned that it's not necessarily the sounds of nature that are most "addicting." The beeps, jingles and ditties of commerce beat out several familiar sounds of everyday life.

On the list of overall sounds (both branded and non-branded), the sound of a baby giggling grabbed the number one spot, but chip manufacturer Intel's distinctive chime came in at number two. The sound of a vibrating cell phone ranked third.

Among branded sounds, Intel's tune was followed by those of National Geographic and MTV, respectively. Other non-branded sounds included a steak sizzling, a cigarette being lit and inhaled and "Hail to the Chief."

Lindstrom said brainwave activity, pupil dilation and muscle movements on their own can indicate both positive and negative reactions. To determine the dimension of the responses, he said the researchers looked at the contrast and balance of all three factors.

But he emphasized that the volunteers weren't responding to the structures of the sounds, but what they mean in a greater social context.

2. Intel chime

3. Vibrating phone

4. ATM/cash register

5. National Geographic theme

6. MTV theme

7. T-Mobile ringtone

8. McDonald's jingle

9. "Star Spangled Banner"

10. State Farm jingle

1. Intel chime
2. National Geographic theme
3. MTV theme
4. T-Mobile ringtone
5. McDonald's jingle
7. State Farm jingle
8. AT&T ringtone
9. Home Depot jingle
10 Palm Treo ringtone

1. Baby giggle
2. Vibrating phone
3. ATM / cash register
4. "Star Spangled Banner"
5. Sizzling steak
6. "Hail to the Chief"
7. Cigarette light and inhale
8. "Wedding March"
9. "Wish Upon a Star"
10. "Late Night with David Letterman" theme