The Effects of Positive and Negative Sound

Case Study

Ensuring effective sound transfer measures are in place is a crucial first step to blocking out external 'noise' that could have damaging consequences.

The science of interior acoustics all too often focuses on absorbing negative sounds and the effects they have on our bodies, work performance, learning capability, comfort and quality of life.  So it didn't come as much surprise when recent studies announced that as living organisms we influence each other with the help of sounds.

As mentioned, negative sound or noise as its usually known can cause detriment to our health and wellbeing, whereas positive sounds can have a wholesome effect on us.  It has been proven that the sounds of nature can have a restorative influence on us and help us to fight stress.

In 1984, research conducted by Social Scientist Werner Ulrich demonstrated that hospitalised patients whose windows faced a park recovered faster than those who faced a brick wall.  Since then scientists have compared natural environments with urban environments and the effect it has on physiological stress responses.  Ulrich suggests that natural environments help induce positive emotional states and sustained attention.

Presenting at the American Acoustical Society conference in May 2016, Dr Jonas Braasch conducted tests on 12 participants that featured a different soundscape in the background: office sounds muffled by white noise, office sounds masked with the sound of 'flowing water in a mountain stream' and office sounds with no masking noise.

What did Braasch find?  When listening to the natural sounds, the workers not only performed better on the task, but also reported feeling more positive about their environment than they did in the other sessions.

Braasch also states that although natural sounds provided a positive response, he believes that replacing nature sounds with a favoured music selection will also return positive results in a workplace.  With all people having different tastes and requirements, it's safe to say there is no 'one size fits all' solution.  But this suggests that designers and architects need to consider what negative noise the building inhabitants are exposed to.  Ensuring effective sound transfer measures are in place is a crucial first step to blocking out external 'noise' that could have damaging consequences.

When approaching the sound control of a space, consideration must be taken with the type of activity that is to be conducted in the space.  This means a high level consideration must be taken into each office layout.  Conducting a thorough consultation with acoustic designers during the design stage can help create a space that promotes wellbeing, health and productivity by protecting the inhabitants from unwanted noise through insulation and reverberation control.


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