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Research confirms that the sound of nature helps us relax

Research confirms that the sound of nature helps us relax

Listening to the sounds of nature positively affects our mind, calms the nervous system and digestion. New research confirms that the sounds of a babbling brook or the wind in the treetops help us relax.

Researchers from Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) found that listening to the sounds of nature affects body systems that control the autonomic nervous system (feelings of fear, stress, digestive function, brain function...). Nature and its sounds are often associated with promoting relaxation, but until now there was no scientific consensus on how these effects occur. A study was recently published that confirms these effects.

We all know the feeling of relaxation and "switching off" that comes from a walk in nature. Understanding this effect was the task of scientists. They collaborated with artists on research. The study produced results that will be of particular interest to people who experience high levels of stress.

In collaboration with audiovisual artist Mark Ware, the team at BSMS conducted an experiment in which participants listened to sounds recorded from natural and artificial environments, while their brain activity was measured on MRI scanners and the activity of their autonomic nervous system was monitored through minute changes in heart rate. The team found that activity in the brain's default mode network (a collection of areas that are active when we are resting) varied depending on the sounds playing in the background.

When listening to natural sounds, brain activity directed attention away from stress or feelings of anxiety. When listening to natural sounds compared to artificial sounds, people improved digestion, calmed their minds and experienced less stress.

Interestingly, the amount of change in nervous system activity depended on the participants' baseline state: individuals who showed the most stress before the start of the experiment showed the greatest bodily relaxation when listening to natural sounds, while those who were already relaxed showed only a slight decrease in stress when listening to natural sounds compared to artificial sounds.

The study of the effects of environmental exposure is a subject of growing interest in the field of physical and mental health, and has significant implications for public health and urban planning issues. This research is the first to present an integrated behavioral, physiological and brain investigation of this topic.


Source: 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

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