Why is the sound of the vuvuzela so annoying

There are newspaper reports today that the  vuvuzelas might be banned because their drone is annoying viewers of the World Cup. Why is the noise so annoying?

vuvuzela picture
Vuvuzela picture photo by coda

The trumpets are incredibly loud (there have been reports of concern about hearing damage).  Studies on noise annoyance show that louder sounds are more annoying. We are all very good at tuning out noise, but if it is very loud this becomes much harder to do. What makes it worse is the drone keeps getting louder and quieter and so keeps attracting attention.
The sound is also very annoying because of its quality. Scientific studies have shown that distinctive ‘tonal’ sound like a drone is much more annoying than normal noise (like the hiss of a badly tuned radio). Our brains latch onto the drone and finds it difficult to ignore. The exact reason for this is not known, but here is a likely suggestion. Our hearing is primarily a defense mechanism and is constantly listening out for threats. Threats such as predators roars are often tonal and so one possibility is that our brain instinctively tune in to the vuvuzela’s drone to check that isn’t a threat.
Photo (c) coda http://www.flickr.com/photos/coda/4694708950/

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