The Positive Impact of Sound and Nature

The NOISE project is also interested in the ways sound can improve our communities’ health and quality of life. As this blog post explains,  people living in areas with more birds, trees, and shrubs are less likely to experience stress, anxiety, and depression, and listening to sounds such as birdsongs can actually lift people’s spirits—as we can see in the following infographic!

Infographic by Alycia Basquiat

Additionally, as Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance, explains: “calming nature sounds and even outdoor silence can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which calms the body’s fight-or-flight response.” In a recent study conducted by six universities and the National Park Service (NPS), researchers found that various groups, when exposed to natural sounds, saw a 184% improvement in overall health outcomes, as pleasant nature sounds were able to lower blood pressure, improve cognitive performance and reduce pain. Two other studies, one from a Swedish group and one from Iranian scientists, also found that patients recovered more quickly and with less pain when listening to natural sounds. 

Different sounds can have different effects. In the same study by six universities and the NPS, researchers found that while birdsong was the best for alleviating stress and annoyance, water sounds tended to boost overall health outcomes and encourage tranquility. The WorldBeat Center has also been studying the power of nature sounds. Some music, such as “Charming Children”, which was recorded with Pixie the “Prayer Plant” and a lemon balm herb, helped calm children, while others, such as “Wave of Change”, which was recorded on the beach of the Pacific Ocean in Northern California creates a calming effect which may help lower listeners’ risk of heart disease. The WorldBeat Center has also created healing Sound Sanctuaries where people can gather to listen to plant music and soothe, de-stress, and heal. 

If we connect this back to previous content on combating noise pollution, all of the research from the WorldBeat Center, as well as other scientific researchers, show us how we can create a positive framework to combat noise pollution. Through connecting to nature and exposing ourselves to natural sounds, we can go beyond offsetting the negative impacts of noise pollution and offer a healthful alternative—which can go a long way in combating “learned helplessness”. All of this also ties back into the importance of the NOISE App—by coming together to identify noise refuges, and measuring different noises in different areas, community members have the chance to identify healing spaces in their neighborhoods as well as contribute to the growing body of scientific work on the positive health impacts of noise.