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Birdsong works like a mood booster for humans

Birdsong playing through hidden speakers on a pair of Colorado trails, including the melodies of Wilson's warbler, promoted greater feelings of well-being among hikers. Photo by Dave Keeling
Birdsong playing through hidden speakers on a pair of Colorado trails, including the melodies of Wilson's warbler, promoted greater feelings of well-being among hikers. Photo by Dave Keeling

Dec. 16 (UPI) -- The sound of singing birds in nature promotes feelings of well-being in humans, according to new research.

The human health benefits provided by green space and time spent in nature is well documented, but few studies have examined what exactly is so great about spending time among trees.

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In a new study, published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, scientists examined the mood-boosting effects of birdsong, as experienced during a walk through the woods.

"While the bigger picture of nature's restorative properties is likely to involve multiple senses, our study is the first to experimentally manipulate a single sound in the field and demonstrate its importance to human experiences in nature," lead study author Danielle Ferraro, biology graduate student at California Polytechnic State University, said in a news release.

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For the study, researchers hid speakers along two sections of trail in Colorado's Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks. For a week at a time, researchers piped birdsong through the hidden speakers, including the melodies of Wilson's warbler. Weeks of song were alternated with weeks of silence.

After each week, researchers intercepted and interviewed hikers leaving the trail sections. Hikers who walked through song-filled forest reported greater well-being.

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The survey responses suggest the songs themselves provide a mood boost, while also influencing people's perception of biodiversity.

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Scientists played birdsong at louder volumes on one section of the trails, leading hikers to perceive the birds as being closer and more abundant. The hikers reported their perception of biodiversity contributed to their feelings of well-being.

"We're such visual animals that we discount this modality of sound that we have," said study co-author Clinton Francis.

"I'm still kind of flabbergasted that only seven to ten minutes of exposure to these sounds improved people's well-being. It really underscores how important hearing is to us and probably to other animals," said Francis, a professor of biology at Cal Poly.

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The new study suggests wildlife managers, urban planners, public health officials and others should pay greater attention to soundscape. Instead of littering parks with wireless speakers, researchers suggest efforts to reduce noise pollution could have similar impacts on human well-being.

"Our results underscore the need for park managers to reduce anthropogenic noise pollution, which is not only a cost-effective way to improve visitors' experiences but can also benefit wildlife as well," Ferraro said.

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