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Sounds of Nature in the City: No Evidence of Bird Song Improving Stress Recovery

Journal article
Authors M. Hedblom
Bengt Gunnarsson
M. Schaefer
I. Knez
P. Thorsson
J. N. Lundstrom
Published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Volume 16
Issue 8
ISSN 1660-4601
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Language en
Links dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16081390
Keywords stress, experiment, virtual reality, soundscape, bird song, noise, noise exposure, green space, perceptual assessment, urban, environments, responses, quality, water, associations, restoration
Subject categories Environmental Sciences, Environmental medicine

Abstract

Noise from city traffic is one of the most significant environmental stressors. Natural soundscapes, such as bird songs, have been suggested to potentially mitigate or mask noise. All previous studies on masking noise use self-evaluation data rather than physiological data. In this study, while respondents (n = 117) watched a 360 degrees virtual reality (VR) photograph of a park, they were exposed to different soundscapes and mild electrical shocks. The soundscapesbird song, bird song and traffic noise, and traffic noisewere played during a 10 min recovery period while their skin conductance levels were assessed as a measure of arousal/stress. No significant difference in stress recovery was found between the soundscapes although a tendency for less stress in bird song and more stress in traffic noise was noted. All three soundscapes, however, significantly reduced stress. This result could be attributed to the stress-reducing effect of the visual VR environment, to the noise levels being higher than 47 dBA (a level known to make masking ineffective), or to the respondents finding bird songs stressful. Reduction of stress in cities using masking with natural sounds requires further studies with not only larger samples but also sufficient methods to detect potential sex differences.

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