If I pause a sufficiently loud song (in headphones) for several seconds, then resume it, I perceive it as deafeningly loud, even painfully. Yet, if I first lower the volume, resume, and then gradually increase it over a span of as little as two seconds, there's no problem.

Like turning on lights when someone's sleeping, but for ears that were awake six second ago.

Why does this happen?

  • 10
    $\begingroup$ This is probably a good hint that listening to loud music in headphones is bad for the ears! $\endgroup$
    – Stef
    Jun 22 at 17:58

1 Answer 1


Hearing is capable of sensory adaptation such that prolonged constant stimulus is perceived as less intense. In hearing, the adaptation to loud sounds is called acoustic reflex and is mediated by two muscles: the tensor tympani muscle and the stapedius muscle. Both of them involuntarily and quickly contract when a loud sound comes to the ear in order to minimize any possible hearing damage.

However, they do not respond immediately, which you observed yourself. Depending on the loudness and the frequency of the sound, the response time generally ranges from several tens of milliseconds up to several hundreds of millisecond1,2. Therefore, gradually increasing the loudness gives the reflex enough time to respond and decrease the sensitivity of your ear.

1 Bell, A. A fast, "zero synapse" acoustic reflex: middle ear muscles physically sense eardrum vibration (2017)
2 Narayanan, R. Characterization of Acoustic Reflex Latency in Females (2017)

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @chivracq There are many more than just five senses. The classical five are only a few; there's also your sense of balance, your kinesthetic sense (i.e. your sense of where your body parts are relative to each other--how you know that your arm is at your side and not raised up, for instance), your sense of hunger, the sense that tells you when you need to use the restroom, and most people consider "touch" to be a combination of several senses, including your sense of pain and your sense of temperature. And there's your sense of humor! (that last one was a joke, just in case yours is impaired.) $\endgroup$
    – Hearth
    Jun 23 at 2:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Hearth, alright, I actually wanted to add "physical + psychological" to the word "Perception" that I used in my previous Comment... OK, I understand (a bit)... Thanks for your explanations/clarifications, and I'll stop "polluting" this Answer, the "System" is complaining about "extended discussion + moving to chat"... $\endgroup$
    – chivracq
    Jun 23 at 14:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Oh...!?, "good"... Some High-Rep User removed the "Like many other senses" I was "complaining" about, => +1 from me for both the Qt + Answer. // There is a Typo btw in the Answer: "several hundreds of millisecond[+s]" (missing 's'). Hum, and in the Qt also: "six second[+s] ago" (also a missing 's'). $\endgroup$
    – chivracq
    Jun 24 at 0:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Based on this answer, I got that it needs some time to adapt to loud sound, but how about the reverse? Does it need much time to adapt to no/quiet sound at all? Or otherwise, will pausing only for a very short time (either voluntarily or musically) not amplify the subsequent loudness? $\endgroup$
    – Andrew T.
    Jun 24 at 5:15

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