We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

Why Is the Sound of Fingernails on a Chalkboard So Irritating?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
InfoBloom is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At InfoBloom, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

There are few natural sounds more irritating that fingernails on a chalkboard, with the possible exception of foam cups rubbing together, a squeaky door hinge, or a dentist's drill. What seems to set the sound of fingernails apart from other irritants is the apparent universality of it. Few people living on the planet can avoid cringing in agony as the high-pitched scraping noise begins, and everyone is relieved when the event is over. No one can say with any scientific certainty why the sound is so incredibly irritating, but there are a number of interesting theories.

Some believe the sound is similar to an animal's high-pitched screech indicating danger to the rest of its group. Macaque monkeys, for example, have been known to emit a warning noise of relatively the same pitch and duration of the dreaded fingernails on a chalkboard sound. It has been suggested that humans react to the sound instinctively, creating a "fight or flight" response.

Another theory holds that the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard is akin to the scraping sound of rocks against teeth. Scraping noises are especially irritating because they remind us of painful dental experiences or the unpleasant sensation of biting down on a piece of rock or metal. The scraping sound is created by the fingernails alternatively slipping against and gripping the rough surface of the chalkboard. Experiments conducted by scraping a garden tool against a chalkboard demonstrated that the lower frequencies of the noise were especially bothersome.

In a similar vein, some have theorized that it's not the sound, it's the action itself. Anyone who has ever scraped his or her fingernails against a chalkboard is not likely to forget the experience. As the fingertips drag across the rough surface of the chalkboard, a number of nerve endings are stimulated, and not necessarily in a good way. When people hear the sound, it is highly likely they will have a sympathetic response and identify with the unpleasant sensations accompanying the sound.

Sometimes it's a matter of harmony versus disharmony, auditorily speaking. Many people are very sensitive to changes in pitch or frequency. A guitar with one string out of tune can disrupt an entire performance, for example. The attention signals generated by local television stations are often irritating for a reason. The emergency signal has been detuned in order to stand out from normal background noises. The ultimate in irritating and detuned harmonics is most likely the sound generated by fingernails on a chalkboard. There is simply nothing remotely harmonious about that screeching, abrasive sound, so we react strongly whenever we're forced to hear it.

InfoBloom is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to InfoBloom, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon978039 — On Nov 14, 2014

I hate the sound of two latex balloons rubbing together, probably for the same reason I hate that blackboard sound. The other noise that bothers me is the sound of gym shoes squeaking on the floor during a basketball game. I think it has something to do with the randomness of the squeaks. It sounds like a hundred mice all squeaking at once to me.

By anon944458 — On Apr 07, 2014

"with the possible exception of foam cups rubbing together, a squeaky door hinge, or a dentist's drill"

Really? Squeaky hinges and dentist's drills never bothered me. Foam cups are a bit annoying, but nothing awful. But I absolutely cannot stand the sound of scraping a chalkboard.

By anon938961 — On Mar 11, 2014

Actually, the screeching noise doesn't bother me too much. However, the sound of a traditional dull pencil on paper does.

By anon267565 — On May 10, 2012

Fabulous how ignorant we are about something so seemingly basic. I am Swedish, my friend Russian, and you who write probably American, and we all shudder at this sound, but no one knows why. We've got a lot to learn, even about the basics.

By anon154329 — On Feb 20, 2011

The sound doesn't bother me at all. However, lots of sounds that other people don't seem to even notice, bother me very much.

By anon108812 — On Sep 04, 2010

I actually like this sound and it's a plus for me that it bothers people. I think i would fight in the danger situation.

By anon105376 — On Aug 20, 2010

Some flash-bang stun grenades generate a similar sound.

By anon105199 — On Aug 19, 2010

I'm a little surprised that there was no mention about the slight similarity between the sound of fingernails scraping a chalkboard and the sound of a baby in distress, and similar cries of distress in humans. It makes for an interesting psychoevolutionary bit of information.

I really wish all of these articles would cite their sources when possible; it would make great additional reading and would give credibility to the claims in these articles.

By anon105126 — On Aug 19, 2010

I have clawed a chalkboard before and I will never, ever do it again. It was awful!

By anon104731 — On Aug 17, 2010

I don't even need to hear it, all I need is to think about it and the hair on the back of my neck stands and I get a shiver down my spine.

By anon104577 — On Aug 17, 2010

My ears started hurting while I read this article!

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to InfoBloom, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
Learn more
InfoBloom, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

InfoBloom, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.