"Brain Thunder" is the closest term I could come up with
September 13, 2012 12:20 PM   Subscribe

What is physically happening when I "make my brain thunder"?

If I concentrate on it, I can create a noise in my head that sounds like a fluttering, thunderous, loud sound that almost blocks out all other incoming noise. It's draining enough where I cannot maintain it for more than a few seconds, and while not exactly painful, it isn't pleasant. When I try to describe it to others, some people know exactly what I mean and others never do, so I'm not sure if it's universal or not. When I do this while looking in a mirror or feeling my face, I can't detect any actual muscles working to cause this. It definitely feels like a physical rather than a mental state; I have the sensation of putting some muscle to work, rather than imagining loud noises. What is happening in my skull when I do this? Which muscles am I exercising? Or am I incorrect about the physical-rather-than-mental hypothesis?
posted by waraw to Science & Nature (40 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
I think I know what you're talking about. When I do it I feel like I am physically fluttering my ear drums or something. I also feel some muscles in the back of my throat constrict. It is also slightly easier for me to do if I close my eyes for some reason.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:21 PM on September 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have no idea what this actually is, but count me in for the group who knows what you're talking about. I agree with nathancaswell that it sounds/feels like your eardrums are fluttering. I can make the "thunder" happen all on its own, or it automatically happens when I scrunch up all the muscles in my head/face very tightly.
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:32 PM on September 13, 2012

I've experienced this as well. At the risk of venturing into gross territory, I've encountered it a few times when I've been sick and vomiting or dry heaving.
posted by brundlefly at 12:36 PM on September 13, 2012

Yes. I can do this, too, and sometimes when stressed out I will notice that I've been doing it unconsciously.

And, I too would kind of like to know what is happening when I do it.

I don't know if this is an answer other then to the part of your question where you're not sure it's universal or not.
posted by gauche at 12:37 PM on September 13, 2012

When I first read this question I was like "what the what?!"

And then I realized that I can do that too. To achieve the effect, I essentially yawn without yawning. I agree with the suspicion that it has to do with the ear drum. Like nathancaswell, it is easier to do when I close my eyes, but I can do it with them open.
posted by jph at 12:37 PM on September 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: If this is what I think it is, I believe you are contracting your tensor tympani muscle, and according to Google, not everyone can do it voluntarily (I can do it- it's the roaring in your ears that you hear when you do a giant yawn).

But IANAD and someone with actual medical knowledge might come in later with a better explanation.
posted by castlebravo at 12:38 PM on September 13, 2012 [35 favorites]

I suspect you are flexing the muscles that open up your Eustachian tube. When you open it, air travels through and that would create vibrations in your inner ear.
posted by keep it under cover at 12:39 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm pretty sure you're using some muscles directly under your tongue. I can do this, too, and when I experimented a bit, I discovered that I CANNOT do it with my jaw open, and that if I ATTEMPT to do it while biting my finger, my jaw flexes the teeniest little bit.
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:48 PM on September 13, 2012

I can do it with my jaw open.

Just. You know. Random human body data point.
posted by jph at 12:52 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, crap - I just tried harder, and so can I. Maybe it can be done in multiple ways (via the tensor tympani, AND by whatever other muscles link up to it?). My bad!
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:53 PM on September 13, 2012

As another datapoint, I get this if I have something painful stuck in my contacts. It's like my eyeballs are vibrating the inside of my ears. I do agree it's probably an eardrum thing.
posted by chatongriffes at 12:57 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I can do this, but thanks to this thread I now know that I'm contracting my tensor tympani muscle.
posted by pombe at 1:37 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I do this, too! It looks like it may be that we can control the tensor typani muscles in our ears. I like to make mine do the 20th Century Fox drumroll (if that's not too weird).
posted by zoetrope at 1:37 PM on September 13, 2012 [13 favorites]

Well, thanks, zoetrope, now I know I can make the drumroll too.
posted by PussKillian at 1:55 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can do this too, for about 30 seconds only, at the end of which I experience an irresistible yawning attack and a powerful wave of sleepiness.
posted by jamjam at 2:05 PM on September 13, 2012

Another datapoint: I didn't know I could do this too until about 30 seconds ago. Doing it repeatedly makes me want to yawn and feel a bit odd around the back of my mouth/throat though. On preview: what jamjam said. I need a lie down now.
posted by Chairboy at 2:14 PM on September 13, 2012

Ditto. Never realized I could do this before. And now that muscle is tired.
posted by supercres at 2:31 PM on September 13, 2012

For what it's worth, I can't (yet?) do drumrolls, but can do something that sounds like closing a hatch in conjunction with pulling back on the occipitalis (which of course also moves my ears along the sides of my head a bit). Jaw open/closed doesn't seem to matter. I'm tired enough that I can't really tell you if it brings on sleepiness, but it is bothering the my throat around the tonsils and I think I'll stop for now.

Oh good grief why am I still sitting here exercising my ears?
posted by teremala at 2:45 PM on September 13, 2012

Response by poster: Answered, yay! Teremala: I know, right? It's not a pleasant feeling but it's strangely compelling. If only I could do this instead.
posted by waraw at 2:48 PM on September 13, 2012

I can do this if I close/squint my eyes really, really tight.

I too can do 20th Century Fox, now that you mention it.
posted by functionequalsform at 3:02 PM on September 13, 2012

This kind of also sounds like ujjayi breath.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 3:30 PM on September 13, 2012

I can do it, jaw open or closed, and I can wiggle my ears, too! So cool to find out about the odd stuff your body does.
posted by thylacinthine at 4:23 PM on September 13, 2012

Huh, I thought everyone could do this.
posted by xyzzy at 4:25 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cannot do this! Jealous.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:33 PM on September 13, 2012

I can get two different volumes depending on whether my eyes are closed and I also have limited control over the pitch. So if you see me blinking weirdly I'm probably rocking out to an internal drum solo.
posted by jewzilla at 4:51 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, I guess this means we have crappy superpowers.

(yeah, actually kinda irked to find out some folks can't do this, because now I've got yet another special ability that is utterly pointless)
posted by aramaic at 5:18 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have been wanting to know what this was for THIRTY FIVE YEARS, ever since I discovered it at the age of two. Looking at that Wikipedia page, that is EXACTLY what I'm doing, is flexing my tensor tympani. AWESOME! Thank you so much!
posted by KathrynT at 6:45 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Huh, I didn't know that only some people can do this. Also, in addition to doing it voluntarily, it happens to me involuntarily at the eye doctor's office to when someone shines bright light in my eye.
posted by fings at 7:09 PM on September 13, 2012

Somewhat-derail: can anyone else hear it when you exercise your super-powers? If you tense that muscle does it rattle your tympanum so that your ears purr from a nearby person's POV?
posted by jet_silver at 7:48 PM on September 13, 2012

Doesn't everyone's head thunder when they yawn? I can do it mouth open or closed, tongue up or down, and I just discovered that I can change the "beat" by squinching up my eyes. And yes, doing it makes me have to yawn. In fact, I am likely to do it to precipitate a yawn if I'm feeling sleepy and a yawn isn't coming on its own. I

This question makes me unreasonably happy.
posted by looli at 8:00 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Woah, not everybody can do that? Weird. What do you do when you're bored?
posted by Scientist at 8:14 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yay a new skill!
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:49 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

This always happens when I yawn. I can do it voluntarily as well.

Heres the strange thing; I knew exactly what you were talking about, but had never, ever in my 29 years of life given any sort of conscious thought to the sound. My brain just... disregarded it as background noise each and every one of the 342,937,089 times I've yawned in a lifetime.

Thanks for this post. Really. Now I have to spend the rest of my life a) noticing this and b) wondering eternally why the sound is louder in my right ear than my left. :P
posted by slateyness at 10:16 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I did not know I could do this. I read this question, and thought this crazy.

But I can do this.

It freaks me the heck out, so I'm going to stop now, but hey, thanks for sharing! (I wonder what percentage of people who thought this question was nuts can do this too).
posted by nat at 10:45 PM on September 13, 2012

I just turned to my boyfriend, excitedly repeated this question and asked if it sounded familiar to him, too. He said, "yeah I can do that, but it's actually just a click." And I said, "OMG CAN I HEAR YOURS?" and then we put our ears together like weirdos and one of us made the thunder sound and the other heard the soft little clicks.
posted by tyrantkitty at 10:52 PM on September 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

Now it's happening every time I blink or close my eyes.


I can also kind of make it "stick" sometimes, so my breath is all magnified inside my head, Darth Vader style.

posted by bink at 12:50 AM on September 14, 2012

Oh my god, I do this, and I have thought I was just this freak who couldn't hear people when she yawned or stretched! I cannot believe it is an actual thing and that I'm not nuts!
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:29 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another "thought I was the only one" here! I will always remember the humiliating experience of trying to demonstrate it to my grade school friends -- "hey, lean close to my ear and listen to this! What do you mean you can't hear it? I'll try again, get closer", etc. Eventually they decided I was just screwing with them and I decided I was a freak. And it only took 35 years to find out otherwise.

Better late than never I suppose. Thanks for asking this!
posted by ook at 8:48 AM on September 14, 2012

And I said, "OMG CAN I HEAR YOURS?" and then we put our ears together like weirdos and one of us made the thunder sound and the other heard the soft little clicks.

Well now I gotta try this. I never considered that it might generate sound outside of my head.

I've been able to do this voluntarily, with minimal effort (and no visible effort, as far as I know), for as long as I can remember. I think part of my talent for it may come from the fact that I carry all my stress in my jaw.

The only time it seems to happen involuntarily for me is when I deliberately pop my ears (e.g. following a sudden change in elevation), which I can also do almost anytime with minimal effort and no external assistance (e.g. chewing gum, yawning). In these cases the "thunder" (or as I often think of it, the "Caligula horses") is brief but identical in feel/sound to when I do it deliberately.
posted by AugieAugustus at 9:37 AM on September 14, 2012

This happens to me when I yawn but I can also make it happen on demand. In my case it feels like I'm pulling my ears backward while contracting my eyebrows. Alternatively I can make it happen without pulling my ears back and just by contracting the upper half of my face towards my nose. I have to have my eyes closed... can't do it with them open.
It sounds to me like rolling thunder. The fake kind created by wobbling sheet metal like they used to do in theatres and opera houses.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:43 PM on September 20, 2012

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