The tweets of relaxation
21 December 2011
Looking at serene natural landscapes can help hospital patients to relax – but does the same effect apply to sounds?
In an ESRC CASE studentship, psychologist Eleanor Ratcliffe at the University of Surrey is exploring how listening to natural sounds such as birdsong can improve mood and attention after stress or fatigue.
"There have been studies showing for example that natural sounds can help people recover physiologically from stress," she said to BBC News. "I'm interested in breaking that down, finding out what sorts of natural sounds and even what species people prefer listening to and find most interesting."
Volunteers from the National Trust and the Surrey Wildlife Trust Through will fill in questionnaires about how they perceive natural sounds, the impact of birdsong and how they relate birdsong to their own memories.
In the next phase of the project lab-based research will explore the effect of birdsong on brains and behaviour, with participants performing problem-solving and creative tasks while listening to different types of birdsong.
"I'm really interested in how people rate and respond to different types of song - for example comparing a crow with a wren,” Ms Ratcliffe told BBC News.
In the quest to identify the secret of birdsong, the team will compare the soothing impact of recorded birdsong with real birds, both in the countryside and in the city.
"There's also the issue of the symbolic associations people have with different bird sounds - for example, if they associate hearing a particular species with a nice holiday," Ratcliffe adds.