According to a new study, people who are bony or lean are more likely to perceive an approaching sound as closer than it actually is.
Evolutionary psychologist John Neuhoff and colleagues at The College of Wooster in Ohio, who study "looming" sounds, said that such a connection between physical fitness and the brain's auditory system may have evolved to help the weak get out of the way of approaching danger.
In the study, participants were made to listen to a tone moving toward them and they had to press a button when they thought the sound had arrived directly in front of them.
It was found that almost everyone pushed the button too early, which made Neuhoff to interpret it as an adaptation that helps human beings to anticipate and avoid danger.
The researchers also tested the fitness levels of the listeners and found that those better equipped to handle danger allowed the sound get closer.
Individuals with greater upper body strength and/or stronger cardiovascular systems waited longer to push the button, while subjects in poorer physical shape gave themselves a greater "margin of safety."
The research expands upon previous work showing that women respond to looming sounds sooner than their typically larger, stronger male counterparts, though both groups perceive receding sounds equally.
Rhesus monkeys also spend less time looking at receding sounds than approaching sounds.
"These reactions are influenced by evolutionary forces; it's a good thing to respond a little bit early and, evolutionarily, it doesn't cost much," said Neuhoff.
The talk 'Strength and cardiovascular fitness predict time-to-arrival perception of looming sounds' is just a few of the topics that will be covered at the 157th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA).