Why the sound of revving engines gets (some) people’s motors running

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An environmentally friendly — and not too horrifically loud — Formula E car

For most American fans of Formula 1, an iconic television moment begins each new season: The drivers are lined up for the start of the first race, their engines idling. Seconds before the race lights turn green, the drivers rev their engines and a TV announcer calls for viewers to “TURN UP THE VOLUME!”

The all-pervasive roar that follows is either beautiful and exciting, or awful and irritating, depending on who you ask. Put me in the latter category — for all its excitement and technological wonder (which I do appreciate) F1 is just too loud for me to enjoy at full volume. The sound makes me cringe. It makes me feel angry.

So when I heard that a new racing series based on quieter electric vehicle technology was about to launch, I thought, “Finally — a Formula race that I can actually listen to!” Many, many people disagreed. As I read about F1 fans panning the upcoming Formula E season for its anticipated lack of “vroom-vroom,” I wondered: what is it about the sound of cars that gets so many people excited?

In getting to the answer, I talked to psychologists, drivers, car makers, sports announcers and sound effects experts — and had the most fun researching a story as I’d had in a long time. The result appeared in New Scientist just in time for the start of the Formula E season.

Roar_Power (PDF)

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