Urban soundscape augmentation with natural sounds and the perceived effect on human wellbeing

At a Glance

  • Location: Guildford, UK
  • Date: 08.06.2016
  • Institution: University of Surrey
    Centre for Environmental Strategy
  • Web Page: http://www.surrey.ac.uk


  • Context: Master Thesis
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Brief abstract and study goal:

Manmade environmental background noise within urban environments forms an increasingly intrusive part of the living soundscape. It is recognized that for many this noise induces stress that adversely affects health and general wellbeing. The study aims to determine whether the addition of ‘natural’ sounds to background noise can elicit a reduction in perceived stress, through both qualitative and quantitative data analysis of a sample group of individuals.

Hypotheses of study:

The restorative effects from psychological and physiological stress of natural sounds such as that of birdsong, running water and trees rustling have been investigated with successive studies showing positive benefits (Alvarsson et al., 2010, Nichols, 2014, Tsunetsugu, 2009). One common limitation of many research studies is that the effect of restorative sounds is evaluated in isolation from background noise and visual context. Limited research appears to exist that examines whether there is a perceived benefit from artificially combining natural and urban sound. However, the potential of natural sounds to mask and elevate the appeal of public spaces is recognized, as is the necessity to integrate soundscape planning within future urban development (Coensel, 2010).
The proposition is therefore:

Can people’s feelings of wellbeing when subjected to background noise types and levels typical of public urban soundscapes be mediated by artificially superimposing a sound or combination of natural sounds more commonly associated with rural soundscapes found outside dense urban environments?

Study design:

Background noise and natural sound types have been recorded independently and mix/edited into test audio--‐video clips using editing software. These clips will be embedded into one of two audio/video interactive questionnaires. The video clips will provide a visual context to the background sound (noise) and will be identical in both questionnaires. The audio will be modified on one of the questionnaires to mix natural sounds with the same background noise. Individual test subjects will be exposed at random to one of the questionnaires (thus forming a control and test group) and their responses recorded using a standardized psychological questionnaire and self--‐reported qualitative feelings. In addition, a quantitative measurement is proposed to measure the test subjects EDA response for a period before, during and after their participation in the interactive questionnaire. It is then planned to compare the control group responses to those of the test group to establish whether there is any correlation with regards the test subjects physiological EDA stress response and their perceived response as reported via the questionnaire.


From the review and analysis of the quantitative and qualitative data using both the questionnaire and objective EDA measurement it is hoped that it will be possible to determine whether there is any statistical significance in the responses between normal and modified soundscapes, and to determine which if any of the natural sound augmentation types is most effective for further more detailed research.