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‘The quietest my brain has ever been’: Brown noise goes viral on TikTok

'It's like driving with the window down.'


Audra Schroeder

Internet Culture

Posted on Jul 1, 2022   Updated on Jun 30, 2022, 5:30 pm CDT

That One Sound is a weekly column from internet culture reporter Charlotte Colombo that explores the origin of popular sounds heard on TikTok.

TikTok has floated some iffy medical and health advice. Over the last few months, “brown noise” has become popular on the app for focus and relaxation. The world is shit right now, so that is understandable. But is brown noise—not to be confused with the brown note—really helping?

The sound

In early June, videos about brown noise started getting popular. A June 12 TikTok claiming that “My brain is quiet for the first time ever” after listening to brown noise has more than 7 million views. The comments are full of people saying the same thing.

On another popular video about brown noise, someone commented: “I even unclenched my jaw.” And: “It’s like a thunder jacket for my thoughts.”

@rnbw.infinity.nikki Is this how most people’s brains feel all the time??! #quiet #brownnoise #autisticadult #asd #stimming ♬ Brown noise – Pure Brown Noise – Power of Noise
@natalyabubb #brownnoise #brownnoisers #adhdinwomen #adhdcheck #adhdtipsandtricks #adhdhacks #adhdhavks #adhdproblems #adhdsquad ♬ Brown noise – Pure Brown Noise – Power of Noise

Brown noise is a low-frequency alternative to white noise and could be described as airplane or traffic noise: a dull roar that never really changes pitch. I asked an acquaintance who frequently uses white noise YouTube clips to fall asleep if brown noise was soothing: “Needs more stuff going on.”

But TikTokers, especially those with ADHD or on the autism spectrum, are all about brown noise. There’s been a massive uptick in ADHD content and ads on TikTok over the last two years. The #ADHD tag has more than 12 billion views, and TikTok has been scrutinized for allowing sketchy pharmaceutical startups like Cerebral to advertise on the platform. A lot of the videos about brown noise use the tags #adhd or #adhdtiktok. The brown noise TikTok tag has more than 60 million views.

Where’s it from?

While the sound got popular this month, creators were using it in informative videos earlier this year, advocating for the benefits of brown noise. A TikTok from February, which has more than 6.8 million views, is one of the first viral videos about it.

@adhd_assist Brown noise has tons of evidence backing its relaxation and focus boosting effects. #evidencebased #science #brownnoise #adhd #adhdinwomen #adhdsquad ♬ Brown noise – Pure Brown Noise – Power of Noise

Brown noise is actually named after botanist Robert Brown, and is also known as Brownian noise. It was discovered in 1827, when Brown examined pollen under a microscope and noted the pollen grains’ random movement, which would come to be called Brownian motion. Albert Einstein expanded on Brown’s discovery nearly 100 years later.

Sound off

Brown noise isn’t a new internet phenomena—compilations have existed on YouTube for years. But TikTok discovering it has definitely changed its utility. Because of the copycat nature of the app, it’s hard to tell if people are really benefitting from brown noise, or jumping on a viral trend. But then, scrolling TikTok is pretty overstimulating.

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*First Published: Jul 1, 2022, 6:00 am CDT