The researchers listened to sound recordings taken from 221 locations in 68 United States (US) national parks, including water noises, bird calls and wind, with some of the recordings even containing human noise. They also conducted a literature review of 18 publications examining the health impacts of natural sound; however most of these sounds were recorded in a lab or hospital setting.
According to the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a natural acoustic environment indicates a sense of safety, or an ordered world without danger, which allows control over mind states.
Lead author Rachel Buxton from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, said getting the full sensory experience of being in nature, which includes listening to the natural sounds, allows us to mentally recuperate knowing that we're in a safe environment.
The research showed different sounds had different benefits - water sounds improved positive emotions and health outcomes, while bird sounds alleviated stress and annoyance. The importance of water sounds may be connected to the critical role of water for survival.
The study is of significance for the ongoing services of national parks as well as to inform spatial planning that focuses on managing natural soundscapes. One of the study’s co-authors, Kurt Fristrup, a bioacoustical scientist at the US National Park Service, said with nature-based health interventions becoming increasingly common in parks, that giving consideration to the acoustic environment is an opportunity to enhance health outcomes.
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