Sounds of nature promote relaxation

Research has demonstrated that the sounds of nature promote relaxation and a sense of wellbeing.

Research from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) of the University of Sussex published in 2017 reported that long walks in the woods or on the beach, sitting by a stream, or the sound of wind or birds in the trees can physically change our body and mind, leading to relaxation and wellbeing.

Natural sounds and environments have often been linked to feelings that promote a relaxing atmosphere, but Dr. Cassandra Gould van Praag, lead author of the study, stated that we now have scientific evidence to help us understand this effect.

While participants listened to sounds recorded from artificial and natural environments, their brain activity was measured by an MRI scanner and their nervous system was monitored for minute changes in heart rate. Activity in the brain’s default mode network – a collection of areas that are active when you are resting – was different depending on the sounds being played.

Brain connectivity when listening to artificial sounds showed an inward-directed attention focus similar to what is seen in anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. When natural sounds were heard, the brain connectivity exhibited an outward-directed attention focus. An increase in nervous system activity associated with relaxation was noted when listening to natural sounds, and participants performed better in external attentional monitoring tasks.

The amount of change in nervous system activity depended on the baseline state of the participants – those who were the most stressed before the experiment showed the largest amount of bodily relaxation when subjected to natural sounds.

Reference: Cassandra D. Gould van Praag, Sarah N. Garfinkel, Oliver Sparasci, Alex Mees, Andrew O. Philippides, Mark Ware, Cristina Ottaviani, Hugo D. Critchley. Mind-wandering and alterations to default mode network connectivity when listening to naturalistic versus artificial sounds. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7: 45273 DOI: 10.1038/srep45273