Soundscape Facts

Science and soundscape facts

SoundAppraisal is based on active scientific research. In our research we have learned many things that are on the one hand rather obvious, but that on the other hand have long been “overlooked”. On this page we address a number of conclusions that we confirmed scientifically.

What is ‘sound annoyance’?

In How Pleasant Sounds Promote and Annoying Sounds Impede Health: A Cognitive Approach we provide an overview of how sounds influence humans and animals. This influence is by and large subconscious, yet it becomes apparent in what we attend and ignore and in our moods and emotions. For example sound annoyance occurs when subconscious processes force the conscious parts to focus attention to something it deems irrelevant or unwanted (and hence ‘noise’). Interpreted like this, sound annoyance resembles an annoying child that constantly attracts attention. Only the child in this case is the subconscious part of the brain that is activated by some (annoying) sound.

Audible safety

The reason the subconsious part of the brain draws attention to a sound is that one of its key roles is to warn in case of potential danger. When “primitive” unconscious sound processing indicates that the situation might not be completely safe, it recruits conscious processing for a more advanced analysis. We, in this case the unconscious sound processing systems, are rather safe than sorry. Basically, humans and animals like sounds that are indicative of safety, sounds of other individuals feeling safe, relaxed, or having fun. These sounds (unconsciously) help the listener to relax, enjoy, or focus attention. This explains why the blanket of non-natural sounds (such as traffic or machines) in our societies leads to a degradation of the soundscape quality: these sounds mask the pleasant – safety-indicative – sounds that we prefer. The results is that the auditory environment becomes more boring, less reassuring, and overall less pleasant.

Most machine and device sounds are not so good for us

It is interesting to note that the sound of most devices and aparatuses is experienced as unpleasant, while most natural sounds are deemed pleasant. As a society we have to learn how to develop and use machines and devices in such as way that these are not only are practical, but that they also contribut to a auditory environment in which it is good to live. Fortunately this does not seem to be too difficult. The main point is that we become aware of the many possibilities to improve the auditory environment.

Pleasurable sounds indicate safety

Researchers have always wondered why some sounds are pleasant while others are neutral or unpleasant. It seems that pleasurable sounds indicate safety . People judge mundane sounds like singing birds, a purring cat, a parter reading a book, or a family member quiety actove the house as pleasant. These are sounds humans and animals make when they feel safe. In fact these sounds indicate that they feel safe and that is a reason (for the subconscious part of the brain) to feel safe.

It is the source, not the decibel.

In 2014, we showed that particular sound sources have predictable effects on how the sound will be appraised. Put differently, not every “decibel” has the same effect. For example the sound of cars do almost aways lead to a more chaotic interpretation of the auditory environment. On the other hand additional bird sounds in a quiet environment lead to a more calm interpretation. This is a situation in which a higher level in dB leads to a calmer interpretation. However in a chaotic situation, additional bird song contribute to the chaos.