Healthy urban soundscapes? Initial exploration of natural sounds and stress in Detroit

Authors: Amber Pearson*, Michigan State University, Rachel Buxton, Colorado State University, Claudia Allou, Michigan State University
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: cities, stress, natural soundscapes, biophilia, anxiety, birdsong
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Virginia C, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In an increasingly urbanized world, contact with nature has been shown to benefit human well-being. An immense body of research indicates that exposure to or contact with nature, broadly defined, can have psychological and physiological benefits for humans including restored cognition, reduced rumination, increased physical activity, and many other health outcomes. Most research on contact involves active usage of natural areas. However, a few studies have also evaluated the mental health benefits of natural views and sounds. In theory, more ‘natural’ sounds may be perceived as less threatening than urban noise, and that larger numbers of natural sounds may be perceived as beneficial compared to fewer natural sounds, conferring restorative and recovery benefits. To explore the current state of knowledge on the health benefits of natural sounds, we first conducted a systematic review of the literature. Next, we conducted a pilot study in Detroit, MI whereby audio recordings at seven locations in two neighborhoods were conducted and used to calculate a measure of natural sound quality. We used our measurements of natural sound quality in a geo-spatial modelling framework to predict sound quality for every cell covering the two neighborhoods. Finally, we extracted values at home locations for 70 participants and evaluated the relationship between sound quality and indicators of stress. Our results indicate that habitat restoration in cities may yield stress-reduction benefits through passive exposure to natural sounds.

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