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The Influence of Natural Sounds on Attention Restoration

Lauren C. Abbott, Derrick Taff, Peter Newman, Jacob A. Benfield, Andrew J. Mowen

Abstract


Parks and protected areas offer refuge from the fatigue of daily life. An existing body of literature provides evidence that experiences in nature can promote restoration and improve overall health and well-being. Previous research on sounds in national parks has determined that manmade sounds negatively impact visitors’ enjoyment, as well as, their assessment of the landscape. Additionally, previous studies have indicated that experiencing the restorative sounds of nature is important to visitors in national parks, and despite the growing body of protected area soundscape-focused research, very little attention has been placed on the relationship between natural sounds and cognitive health. As anthropogenic sounds and human-caused noise continues to increase in national parks, it is imperative to understand how these sounds influence visitor experience. This laboratory simulation aimed to increase understanding regarding the positive effects of natural sound on attention restoration. Using an experimental design, the researchers tested the effects of natural and anthropogenic sound, on attention restoration by having participants complete cognitive tasks after exposure to various sound clips or with no sound present. Based on previous studies, the researchers hypothesized that participants exposed to a natural sound condition would score higher on a cognitive task than those exposed to anthropogenic sound conditions. The relationship in mean cognitive performance scores between participants in the natural, anthropogenic, and control sound conditions were found to be approaching statistical significance. Findings suggested that participants who received the natural sound condition outperformed those in the no sound or control condition. Results from the study indicate that natural sounds can potentially facilitate attention restoration. Outcomes of this study provide a better understanding of how parks can serve holistically as places for human, environmental, and ecological health, as specifically measured through the role of natural sounds on recovery from mental fatigue. In addition, gaining a better understanding of the benefits natural sounds can have on restoration from mental fatigue will further validate the protection of park soundscapes.  Finally, this research will help park and protected area managers, specific programs and initiatives, such as the Healthy Parks Healthy People and the Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division, develop plans and policies that aim to provide visitors with a beneficial, cognitively restorative soundscape experience. 


Keywords


Health; wellbeing; natural sounds; restoration; National Parks

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.18666/JPRA-2016-V34-I3-6893

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