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How Pleasant Sounds Promote and Annoying Sounds Impede Health: A Cognitive Approach


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This theoretical paper addresses the cognitive functions via which quiet and in general pleasurable sounds promote and annoying sounds impede health. The article comprises a literature analysis and an interpretation of how the bidirectional influence of appraising the environment and the feelings of the perceiver can be understood in terms of core affect and motivation. This conceptual basis allows the formulation of a detailed cognitive model describing how sonic content, related to indicators of safety and danger, either allows full freedom over mind-states or forces the activation of a vigilance function with associated arousal. The model leads to a number of detailed predictions that can be used to provide existing soundscape approaches with a solid cognitive science foundation that may lead to novel approaches to soundscape design. These will take into account that louder sounds typically contribute to distal situational awareness while subtle environmental sounds provide proximal situational awareness. The role of safety indicators, mediated by proximal situational awareness and subtle sounds, should become more important in future soundscape research.
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Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10, 1439-1461; doi:10.3390/ijerph10041439
International Journal of
Environmental Research and
Public Health
ISSN 1660-4601
How Pleasant Sounds Promote and Annoying Sounds Impede
Health: A Cognitive Approach
Tjeerd C. Andringa * and J. Jolie L. Lanser
ALICE Institute, Artificial Intelligence, University of Groningen, Broerstraat 4. Groningen 9747 AG,
The Netherlands; E-Mail:
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed; E-Mail:;
Tel.: +31-50-363-6958; Fax: +31-50-363-6687.
Received: 11 February 2013; in revised form: 19 March 2013 / Accepted: 21 March 2013 /
Published: 8 April 2013
Abstract: This theoretical paper addresses the cognitive functions via which quiet and in
general pleasurable sounds promote and annoying sounds impede health. The article
comprises a literature analysis and an interpretation of how the bidirectional influence of
appraising the environment and the feelings of the perceiver can be understood in terms of
core affect and motivation. This conceptual basis allows the formulation of a detailed
cognitive model describing how sonic content, related to indicators of safety and danger,
either allows full freedom over mind-states or forces the activation of a vigilance
function with associated arousal. The model leads to a number of detailed predictions that
can be used to provide existing soundscape approaches with a solid cognitive science
foundation that may lead to novel approaches to soundscape design. These will take into
account that louder sounds typically contribute to distal situational awareness while
subtle environmental sounds provide proximal situational awareness. The role of safety
indicators, mediated by proximal situational awareness and subtle sounds, should become
more important in future soundscape research.
Keywords: quietness; quiet areas; quality-of-life; soundscape; mind-states; pleasure;
annoyance; needs; arousal; attention; audition; core affect; motivation; safety
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10 1440
1. Introduction
This theoretical paper approaches the relation between quiet or pleasant areas and sustainable health
from a cognitive science point of view. The outcome of this paper is a qualitative cognitive model that
explains how the sounds that comprise sonic environments promote or impede health. The core idea of
this paper is that quiet and pleasant sonic environments allow the listener full freedom and control over
mind-states. In contrast, annoying sounds force one to be vigilant or to attend particular sources.
This paper therefore interprets pleasantness, and the absence thereof, as an indication of whether we
exhibit proactive or reactive behavior. Prolonged presence in annoying sonic environments limits
proactive adaptive behavior, which erodes proactive optimization of long-term needs with ensuing
health effects.
We propose that the sonic features that facilitate freedom of mind-states comprise audible
indications of safety: if basic and evolutionary old perceptual processes find ample safety indicators,
they allow the newer and higher centers of the brain (typically the cortex) full freedom to address
needs that transcend the here and now proactively. In the absence of safety indicators, attentional
resources are continuously on alert to address immediate needs reactively, which corresponds to
aroused mind-states and an associated focus on the here and now.
The word quiet has different dictionary meanings (here from the New Oxford Dictionary). When
used in direct reference to a sound or sound source, quiet refers to making little or no noise. When
used in reference to a place, period of time, or situation it means without much activity, disturbance, or
excitement. The third meaning of quiet refers to mind states that are not disturbed or interrupted:
He wanted a quiet drink to contemplate his life. Tranquil is a synonym for quiet in the second
and third meaning.
It is useful to describe these different meanings of quietness in some detail. The first meaning is one
in which quietness can be measured as sound levels. This is well within our current technical ability
(e.g., [1]) and forms the basis of current policies. This interpretation is not addressed in this paper.
The second meaning of quiet refers not to sounds per se, but to the interpretation of places,
periods, and situations as one of perceived inactivity or the absence of disturbances and excitement.
This is indicative of the continuation of normalcy, the absence of pressing situational demands, and
therefore of safety. This second meaning can be emulated by future measurement systems that produce
similar appraisals of the state of the world as human interpreters do.
The third meaning of quiet refers to prolonged and/or uninterrupted mind-states. This is a
locus-of-control issue: whether control over the content and activities of the mind reside with the
individual or the environment. This third variant of the concept of quietness can be estimated by a
cognitive model describing which (and how) perceptual events claim control over mental-states.
We will present such a model in Section 3.
This paper connects the theoretical foundations of the concepts of a quiet state of the world (second
meaning) and a quiet, or tranquil, mind-state (third meaning), which by necessity addresses the relation
between an individual and the sonic environment. As such it involves both the concept of situational
awareness as well as the definition of soundscape as a relation between an individual and its sonic
environment. The link between the state of the environment and ensuing mind-states, in particular the
feelings referred to as core affect, has become a recent topic of investigation [2]. Sound annoyed
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10 1441
individuals are actually quite explicit about this relation by literally reporting that annoying sounds
force them out of tranquil mind-states, while pleasant sounds allow them to be in tranquil mind-states
and therefore allow them control over their mind-states [3]. This observation suggests that pleasant
sounds play a key-role in both the second and third meaning of quietness. In contrast annoying sounds
correspond, via mechanisms described in this paper, to the antithesis of quietness and pleasantness by
forcing one out of self-selected mind-states.
While this makes intuitive sense, it requires theoretical cognitive science to integrate concepts like
quietness (tranquility), pleasant and annoying sounds, soundscape quality, audible safety, core
affect, moods, emotions, mind states, focused and divided attention, locus of control, arousal,
restoration, and multi-tasking in a single and testable framework that is consistent with available
knowledge. As such this paper is an example of inductive science; it starts with a diversity of
phenomena and observations and synthesizes these into a few general conclusions. These conclusions
should account for the diversity of how sonic environments and soundscapes (as a relation between an
individual or society and a sonic environment) can sustain or impede well-being and health.
This paper continues in Section 2 with a selection of factors that influence quietness and annoyance
to show that these concepts are closely intertwined with a number of key concepts of cognitive science
and perception research. This provides a foundation for Section 3 in which we formulate a detailed and
falsifiable model of how sounds, via situational awareness, influence mind-states. In Section 4 we
discuss the application of our model for soundscape research. We end with conclusions.
2. A Selection of Relevant Concepts and Knowledge
Many fields and approaches have contributed to a rich and fairly coherent picture of how sounds
and sonic environments influence and co-determine our lives. This section outlines a number of
key-insights that we will use in Section 3.
2.1. Factors Associated with Quietness, Pleasantness, and Annoyance
2.1.1. Holistic Appraisal of the Environment
Quietness (in the second and third meaning) is the result of a holistic assessment of the meaningful
relation of the individual to the environment. Recently Booi et al. [4] formulated this as follows
A pleasant sonic environment or soundscape is characterized by the presence of meaningful sounds
that concur with the character of the area. The experience of the environment is supplemented by other
sensory perceptions: we also see, smell and feel (wind, warmth) the environment. In a tranquil area
the total impression is harmonic and no single perception is dominant”. This formulation of a quiet
sense of place entails that models of quietness, by necessity, should rely on a holistic multi-sensory
appraisal of all sound sources in context. In addition it suggests that few foreground percepts stands
out on a background of other sounds.
2.1.2. Quality of Life in Terms of Constrains on Behavioral Options
The definition of annoyance as a feeling of displeasure associated with any agent or condition
known or believed by an individual or a group to be adversely affecting them [5] relies on the
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10 1442
experience of someone who is able to feel an adverse agent or condition. This definition involves a
holistic assessment of the impact of an agent or condition to the quality of life of the experiencer.
Stansfeld [6] reports that annoyance is related to the belief that one is being avoidably harmed. Noise
is therefore seen as intrusive into personal privacy, while its meaning for any individual is important
in determining whether that person will be annoyed by it”. Stansfeld concludes: The effects of noise
are strongest for those outcomes that, like annoyance, can be classified under quality of life rather
than illness”. However, a prolonged reduction of quality of life is a health risk.
Recently, we [7] asked sound annoyed respondents how being sound annoyed influenced their
quality of life. The respondents mentioned predominantly reduced options to relax (70%), negative
changes in living conditions (68%), less positive or more negative emotions (42%), difficulties
attending self-chosen (demanding) activities (15%), and not hearing ambient sounds or difficulties in
communicating (6%). The overall response pattern suggests that sound annoyance in the first place
corresponds to reduced options to relax and other forms of proactive self-selected behavior. Consistent
with the observation that the absence of dominant (attention attracting) percepts is important for
quietness, this suggest that annoying sounds become, quite literally, dominant in the sense that they
actively constrain the range of available behavioral options by constraining mind-states to the here
and now. As such one has reduced options to address long-term (health) needs.
2.1.3. Connecting with the Environment
Evidence concerning the ecological validity of soundscape reproduction [8] suggests that a “feeling
of being present”, i.e., being part of the environment, is important for the way we interpret sounds and
sonic environments: either objective and detached, as combination of sources, or engaged, in terms of
what it means to be part of the sonic environment. This is in accordance with a proposal by de Coensel
and Botteldooren [9] that the more we can connect to (a quiet) ambiance, the more we experience
feelings of quietness. They propose that a feeling of quietness is determined by intervals of silence
where silence itself is defined as the ambiance of a soundscape, the gap or distance, the auditory space
between sound events”. The omnidirectional sensitivity of audition makes it ideal to monitor the
proximal environment and to warn when something unexpected happens [10], but the more the
ambiance is masked, the less our situational awareness can be based on easily available sonic
information about the environment. This connection with the proximal environment suggests, again,
an important role of background sounds: the more prominent the foreground, the more it masks the
background and the less one can connect to the (proximal) environment.
2.1.4. Sensitivity to Noise
The concept of noise sensitivity also captures the relation between the individual and the
environment as essential feature. Job [11] concludes that results consistently show that, despite
ubiquitous reference to noise sensitivity as a single entity in the literature, in fact noise sensitivity is
not a unitary concept. Rather, it generally contains two distinct factors: sensitivity to loud noises
produced at a distance from the hearer (e.g., road traffic or jackhammer noise), and sensitivity to
situations of distraction or close but quieter noises (e.g., rustling paper at the movies, people talking
while watching television)”. Sensitivity to noise therefore comprises both distal and proximal
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10 1443
situational awareness as distinct components, where distal situational awareness is predominantly
determined by the loudest (foreground) sounds and proximal situational awareness by the subtle
(background) sounds.
2.1.5. Wanted and Unwanted Sound
Noise is unwanted sound, or more precisely: noise is unwanted sound given ones current needs,
goals, and activities. What is unwanted depends on and changes with the history, activities and goals,
the physiological state (e.g., fatigue), and in general the needs of the individual. This does not so much
entail that the decision of wanted and unwanted sounds differs markedly between individuals. Rather it
should be interpreted that it changes within individuals as activities, physiological states, and needs
develop. In fact Booi et al. [4] concludes that quietness seems to be a rather universal concept, and
changing individual needs require a diversity in the sonic/acoustic environment. A city can be very
noisy, but that is less a problem if its inhabitants have access to quiet places: a quiet home and a quiet
place outdoors”.
2.1.6. The Need for Quietness
Booi et al. [4] concludes when sound is perceived as a negative factor (noise from transportation
and people) there is a higher need for quietness, but as a positive factor (perceived liveliness at
home/in neighborhood) it reduces that need. In addition they observe there is also a relation
between the need for quietness and the level of education: more highly educated people report a
significantly higher need for quietness”. This suggests that the benefits of an educated mind
presumably via an enhanced control over mind-states and a more pervasive use of directed attention
comes with a higher need for mental restoration (see attention restoration theory below).
2.1.7. Factors Influencing Soundscape Quality
The literature suggests that soundscape quality often matches perceived quietness. Pheasant et al. [12]
for example report that to achieve a high level of tranquility the percentage of natural features
present should be close to 100% and man-made noise sources should be characterized by an
LAmax < 55 dB or LAeq < 42 dB. In addition, as the perceived loudness of human and mechanical
noise increases the tranquility rating falls, and that as the perceived loudness of biological noise
increases so does the tranquility rating”. This is in complete agreement with the proposal by de
Coensel and Botteldooren [9] and matches with reports on soundscape quality. For example
Guastavino [13] asked people about their ideal urban soundscape. She reported that the sounds of
other people, nature, birds, and music were deemed as most pleasurable. On the other hand cars,
traffic, and construction work were judged as unpleasant. Within the category other people angry
people, a small fraction of the neighbors, and cellular phone use were also deemed unpleasant.
However in the category nature, which comprises wind, water, natural elements, countryside, rain,
and parks, none was deemed unpleasant, which is again suggestive of the importance to connect with
the (natural) environment. Similarly Nilsson et al. [14] reported that the degree to which nature sounds
and technological sounds were heard predicted the perceived soundscape quality and noise annoyance.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10 1444
This nature/technological sounds trade-off is a common finding [9,1416]. Furthermore, noise
annoyance, and reduced soundscape quality increases with fear of danger from the noise source,
sensitivity to noise, the belief that the authorities can control the noise, awareness of the non-noise
impacts of the source and the belief that the noise source is not important [17]. In addition
Maris et al. [18,19] report that fair procedures reduce annoyance. Finally, Yang et al. [20] recently
concluded, based on EEG-recordings, that visually presented landscape vegetation can provide excess
noise attenuating effects through subjects emotional processing. All in all it can be concluded
that soundscape quality, noise annoyance, as well as the lack of perceived quietness is determined by
the fraction of the whole multi-sensory experience that, for a diversity of reasons, demands
(immediate) attention.
2.1.8. Relation to Stress and Health
This conclusion dovetails with the recent WHO study [21] which concluded that noise is a
nonspecific stressor that arouses the autonomous nervous system and the endocrine system which
threatens homeostatic or adaptable systems in the body”. Furthermore Babisch [22] summarizes
sound/noise is a psychosocial stressor that activate the sympathetic and endocrine system. Acute
noise effects do not only occur at high sound levels, but also at relatively low environmental sound
levels when, more importantly, certain activities such as concentration, relaxation or sleep are
disturbed”. Both formulations are consistent with the premise of this paper that unwanted sound is
unwanted because it reduces options to address ones needs, which builds up the need for quietness
and the associated restorative benefits. Especially, cardiovascular effects are directly related to
prolonged (low-level) stress, but also hearing impairments (including tinnitus) result from prolonged
exposure to loud sounds. In addition noise causes other effects such as sleep disturbances and reduced
work and school performance [21] that can be alleviated or prevented with quietness.
2.1.9. Role of Home
Quietness is therefore especially important at home [23]. According to Evans et al. [24]: Home is a
place that reflects identity and provides security and maximum control. Good housing offers protection
not only from the elements but also from negative social conditions.Poor housing quality reduces
behavioral options, diminishes mastery, and contributes to a general sense of helplessness”.
A good home, and more generally any place we have a positive emotional bond with [25], provides a
diversity of options for self-selected adaptive behavior. Poor quality homes and/or neighborhoods
reduce these options. In particular sleep patterns [23,26] and relaxation in general are easily influenced
by sounds at home and a quiet façade is beneficial [27,28] for quality of life. Like the concept of
quietness, the concept of home may refer either to a state of the world or to a state of mind like in
make yourself at home”. which means make yourself comfortable and at ease. This entails that a
place that feels like home is a natural combination of place and tranquility and therefore ideal for
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10 1445
2.1.10. Attentive Restoration
The concepts of quietness and tranquility may refer to uninterrupted mind-states (third meaning),
but not all uninterrupted mind-states are restorative. Attention Restoration Theory (ART) [29]
proposes that after prolonged directed attention (e.g., as in task related concentration) it becomes
more difficult to suppress exogenous distractions such as noises. Since an attentionally fatigued
person is prone to make errors [30] and less able to reach desired (mental) goals easily, he/she
experiences irritability [29] and increased arousal. An environment that does not pose any demands on
directed attention provides time for the inhibitory mechanisms involved in directed attention to return
towards equilibrium. This restores the capacity for direct attention (i.e., control over mind-states) and
reduces arousal.
According to ART, four components are important for restoration through suspending direct
attention. Fascination (use of involuntary, effortless, attention as in direct perception [31]),
Being-Away (a physical or cognitive relocation of ones self from everyday obligations), Compatibility
(a match between the individuals desired activity/behavior and the environment) and Extent (the
scope and connectedness of the environment in both time and place) [32]. Together these (FACE)
components ensure prolonged, uninterrupted, and effortless immersion in an environment that is
pleasant, self-selected to serve personal needs proactively, and involves minimal directed attention.
High quality areas, whether tranquil or lively, provide a range of opportunities for prolonged,
uninterrupted, and effortless immersion in a pleasant environment. Ones home should, among other
features, facilitate this function.
2.1.11. Some Sounds Elicit Visceral Responses
While all sudden and loud sounds invoke a startle reflex [33], some sounds are particularly effective
in attracting involuntary responses. Most people cringe when fingernails are scraped across a
chalkboard; for some individuals simply imagining this aversive event evokes a wince”. [34]. Halpern
et al. speculate this automatic and almost visceral reaction is associated with warning sounds or with
sounds indicative of danger that, regardless the auditory events original functional significance, still
registers a strong visceral and attention-grabbing response. These types of sounds can even be used as
aversive unconditional stimulus (similar to an electric shock) in Pavlovian conditioning in
children [35]. The strong aversive and visceral reaction to particular sounds, which promotes
conditioning, may be associated with the very cognitive processes that direct attention and which are
as such very difficult to ignore. In addition music can increase in heart rate, systolic blood pressure,
and stress-related hormones. Again suggesting a close link between sound and visceral responses [36].
2.1.12. Annoying Sounds Disrupt Mind-States
We [3] have shown that 75% of sound annoyed individuals, often literally, mention that the reason
why (some) sounds annoy them is because it reminds them involuntarily of the presence of the source
while preventing them from maintaining desired mind-states. In addition 25% of the respondents
reports that the audibility of disturbing sounds makes it more difficult to relax, sleep, or enjoy their
home and garden because they attend sounds they do not want to hear. This entails that these sounds
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10 1446
have the capacity to enforce themselves as focus of attention, which in turn entails that these sounds
stand out as attended foreground on a background of unattended sounds. It may well be that severely
sound annoyed individuals have learned to become perceptual experts in detecting the sounds they do
not want to hear.
2.1.13. Summary
In general it can be stated that all aspects of the relation between individual and environment play
roles in appraising quietness, liveliness, and the lack thereof. For quietness there seems to be a key role
of, especially natural, background sounds. For pleasantness and annoyance the interplay between
fore- and background and the way we appraise these are of central importance. The next subsection
addresses appraisal.
2.2. Appraising Sonic Environments
Recently, Kuppens et al. [2] reported highly ecologically valid research into the bidirectional
relationship between the way we appraise our (current) environment and how that influences how we
feel, plan, and act. Kuppens studied this relationship in the context of core affect, which is defined as
an integral blend of the dimensions displeasure-pleasure (valence) and passive-active (arousal) [37].
Unlike emotional episodes, which are relatively infrequent, core affect is continually present to
self-report. Core affect is usually visualized as a circle with the pleasure axis horizontally and the
arousal axis vertically as depicted in Figure 1(a). Here relaxed and invigorated feelings are situated in
the lower and upper right quadrants and feelings like boredom and anxiousness in the lower and upper
left quadrants respectively.
Figure 1. Core affect and appraisal. (a) reflects core affect (adapted from [37]), while
(b) reflects appraisals of the (sonic) environment [15]. The left and right sides of both
subfigures are associated with reactive and proactive behavior respectively.
The fact that sounds and sonic environments affect behavior entails a direct relation between the
way we appraise the situation and the selection of overt behavior. As formulated by Kuppens et al. [2],
appraisals are cognitive evaluations of events that are considered to be the proximal psychological
or regaining
No sense
of safety
or control
and caring
and playing
in safety
a) core affect
of insecurity
of safety
of safety
and safe
b) appraisal
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10 1447
determinants of emotional experience, with different combinations of appraisals corresponding to
different emotions. According to Kuppens et al., appraisals typically refer to (1) motivational
relevance (Is it important?), (2) motivational congruence (Is it advantageous or disadvantageous?),
(3) agency (Is it caused by others or myself?), (4) problem and emotion focused coping potential
(Can I cope with the situation and with my emotions?), and (5) future expectancy (Is the expected
outcome desired or not?). The first two types of appraisals explicitly refer to motivation, but in fact
all five appraisal types refer directly to whether one is free to act or forced to respond: whether one can
behave proactively or reactively.
Core affect influences the interaction with the environment, while the appraisal of the environment
influences core affect [2]. It is therefore to be expected that the dimensions that define core affect
(as feeling) not only play a role in the study of feelings, but also when appraising visual [38] and sonic
environments [15,39,40]. Figure 1(a) shows core affect [37] and Figure 1(b) shows the appraisal of a
(sonic) environment [15].
Depending on the choice of the researchers, the main appraisal dimensions are either termed
pleasantness and eventfulness or a combination of these dimensions rotated by 45°. For example
Cain et al. [39,41] report the dimensions vibrancy (interpreted as combination between pleasant and
eventful) and calmness (combining pleasant and uneventful). Axelsson et al. [15] propose to interpret
the vibrancy dimension as a continuum from monotonous to exciting and the calmness dimension
spanning from calm to chaotic. These two sets of axes at 45° angles are depicted in Figure 1(b).
As Kuppens et al. [2] clearly demonstrate, core affect influences appraisal and appraisal influences
core affect. It therefore makes sense to study the adjectives respondents associate with the different
parts of the appraisal circumplex [38] to determine what people find important when they appraise
sonic environments. We have therefore selected a number of adjectives from Axelsson et al. [15] that
cover the circles circumference. These provide further clues about how to interpret each of the four
quadrants and with that the notions of quietness, liveliness, and lack thereof.
The calm lower right quadrant opposes the chaotic upper left quadrant. According to the New
Oxford Dictionary, calm is the absence of violent or confrontational activity within a place or
group. The other adjectives in this quadrant support this; unobtrusive: not conspicuous or attracting
attention; tranquil: free from disturbance; harmonious: forming a pleasing or consistent whole.
In contrast chaotic means in a state of complete confusion and disorder. Associated words are
mobile: able to move or be moved freely or easily; disharmonious: lack of harmony or agreement;
obtrusive: noticeable or prominent in an unwelcome or intrusive way. In terms of qualities of the sonic
environment it seems calmness indicates the absence of events that attract attention because the
constituting sounds are part of a consistent and harmonious whole. In contrast chaotic seems to
indicate the presence of so many conspicuous events that the cognitive capacity to monitor
developments of the world is taxed and one is therefore forced to be on constant alert to detect possible
(immediate) threats. The calm-chaos axis therefore appears to correspond to the extent the soundscape
demands attention and consequently functions as external motivator.
Upper right opposes lower-left and exciting opposes monotonous. Exciting means causing
intense and eager enjoyment, interest, or approval to do or to have something”. Monotonous in contrast
is defined as dull, tedious, and repetitious; lacking in variety and interest”. This opposition seems to
be indicative of the role of the basic emotion interest [42]. Silva [43] describes interests role as to
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10 1448
motivate learning and exploration: by motivating people to learn for its own sake, interest ensures that
people will develop a broad set of knowledge, skills, and experience. And because one never knows
when some new piece of knowledge, new experience, or new friendship may be helpful; interest is
thus a counterweight to feelings of uncertainty and anxiety”. The selected adjectives support this.
Joyful: feeling, expressing, or causing great pleasure and happiness; living: have an exciting or
fulfilling life; lively: (of a place) full of activity and excitement, (of mental activities) intellectually
stimulating or perceptive. In contrast without atmosphere indicates a place or situation without a
pervading tone or mood; empty: containing nothing; not filled or occupied; lifeless: lacking vigor,
vitality, or excitement. The upper right quadrant is therefore not only exciting, it also represents
pleasurable and intellectually stimulating activities that improve personal (interest based) skills,
experience, and knowledge and as such provide a sense of fulfillment, vitality, and mastery. In contrast
the lower left quadrant is indicative of absences: both of vigor, vitality, excitement, as well as a
pervading tone or mood. The monotonous-exciting axis is therefore an intrinsic motivation axis, where
the sonic environment reflects few or ample affordances.
So both diagonal axes represent motivators of behavior. The calm-chaotic axis reflects the degree to
which the soundscape functions as exogenous motivator: namely to what degree we need to assign
mental capacities to the processing and monitoring of the (sonic) environment. The monotonous-exciting
axis reflects endogenous motivation through the quality and abundance of the affordances offered by the
sonic environment.
These axes can also be interpreted in terms of safety. A chaotic or even threatening environment
represents many or strong indicators of actual or potential danger. A monotonous environment may or
may not be unsafe; it simply does not offer safety guarantees. This entails that the left halves of
Figure 1(a,b) require vigilance. In contrast, a calm environment is a harmonious and congruent
whole [44] that provides ample guarantees of safety without sounds that stand out. A calm environment
is appraised as one that does not motivate exogenously. And a lively environment provides many
interesting sonic affordances in an environment that is safe, interesting, and stimulating; for example
through the presence of individuals engaged in self-selected activities only performed in safety.
A lively environment may therefore be an environment in which the background is indicative of safety
and the (abundant) foreground sounds are both indicative of safety and congruent with current needs
and goals.
Note this argument pertains to (hearing) animals in general. It might be possible to construct a solid
case arguing that the close relation between core affect and (soundscape) appraisal in relation to
proactive versus reactive behavior has existed for hundreds of millions of years. A starting point for
such an argument is the rule of conservative changes in evolutionary biology. This law states that only
those changes can be tolerated, that change essentially nothing [45]. If so, one would expect that the
mutual influencing of core affect and appraisal has been preserved since the early evolution of the
neural system and as such is associated with (evolutionary old) subcortical processing that can be
called core cognition. Core cognition determines functions such as the balance between intrinsic and
extrinsic motivation, prioritizing (basic) needs [46], fight or flight startle responses [47] versus
exploration and learning [48], the assignment of attentional resources, and the tuning of arousal [49].
Most of these topics will be addressed in the model of Section 3.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10 1449
2.3. Summary
We conclude that quietness, liveliness, and the lack thereof are probably easiest understood in terms
of how we appraise the sonic environment in terms of safety and opportunities. Different appraisals
correspond to different balances between endogenous and exogenous motivation and with that shifting
balances between reactive and proactive behavior, which are determined in the process referred to as
core cognition. This forms the theoretical basis of the cognitive model introduced in Section 3.
3. Modeling the Influence of Sound on Mind-States
We have formulated a cognitive model describing the cognitive mechanisms through which the
sonic environment and the sources that comprise it constrain mind-states. This model explains how
quiet and pleasant sonic environments, with ample indicators of safety, allow the listener full freedom
and control over mind-states so that short and long term needs can be addressed proactively.
In contrast, boring sonic environments and sonic environments that contain annoying sounds lack
safety indicators or are indicative of potential or actual danger. These environments function as
exogenous motivators that force us to be more alert and/or to attend particular sources that then may
come to dominate mind-states. Prolonged presence in annoying sonic environments reduces the
freedom to self-select adaptive behavior, reduces opportunities for the proactive optimization of
long-term needs, and leads to ensuing health effects.
We developed a first instance of this model [3] to explain how restorative mind-states become
progressively more difficult to maintain as task-irrelevant sounds become more and more intruding.
The model presented here is an improved and expanded variant that accounts for more phenomena and
uses more consistent terminology. It is based on theoretical approaches as diverse as the global
workspace theory of consciousness [50], perceptual gist [51], whole-before-details approaches to
perception [52,53], Attention Restoration Theory [29], and the cost of interrupted work [54].
3.1. Overview
A very short summary, to be expanded on in the rest of this section, is that conscious mind-states
serve self-selection of adaptive behavior either proactively, to address long-term needs, or reactively,
to serve immediate needs. These mind-states need to be based in situational awareness. According to
Job [11], situational awareness has two components. One component tracks the overall properties of
the environment and relies mainly on the ambiance and the subtle sounds and corresponds to proximal
situational awareness. The second component is aimed at specific events within the environment and is
typically directed towards the processes that correspond to the loudest (often distal) sounds in the
environment. Appraising a situation as safe allows for mind-states for (mental) restoration and
proactive adaptive behavior. Diminished safety guarantees, in either the proximal or distal component
of noise sensitivity, arouse and lead to mind-states that switch between vigilance and self-selected
tasks. If high switching costs, arousal, and vigilance prevent the execution of self-selected tasks: one is
dominated by (annoying) sound.
The italicized terms in Section 3.2 refer to components of the model in Figure 2. The block on the
right side depicts the different peripheral sense modalities to be interpreted holistically. The oval on
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10 1450
the left denotes the functions of core cognition: tuning arousal, need prioritizing, and task activation.
The dotted shapes in the middle reflect four attentional states that, with increasing arousal, are more
constrained by core cognition. The lowest corresponds to sleep as the absence of conscious awareness,
the second attention capturing by the input in combination with perception-action automatisms, termed
direct perception [55]. The third and fourth reflect directed attentional states. The fourth state involves
effortful switching between proactive and reactive tasks. The words in bold reflect the restorative or
effortful quality of the different mind-states. The connecting arrows between the mind-states and
peripheral sensing suggest progressively more focused attentional states at higher arousal.
Figure 2. Model of the different processes involved in the experience of quietness and
(sound) annoyance. The italicized words in Section 3 refer to this figure.
The proposed model connects (cortical) attentional states with (subcortical) motivational drives as
estimated by core cognition. The different attentional states correspond to qualitatively different modes
of cortical activity: sleep, automated task performance, single task performance, and multi-tasking.
While we treat these different modes as separate, they form in actuality a continuum that corresponds
to progressively higher arousal and alertness. In fact it seems that arousal and safety (both aspects of
core affect) determine which mind-states are accessible.
The process of allostasis [56], which achieves homeostasis through physiological or behavioral
change, is closely associated with core cognition: one might interpret core cognition as the continuous
strategic decision process of allostasis. If core cognition, with limited and evolutionary old
computational capacity, is able to determine that the situation is safe, it allows the cortical workspace
freedom to attend proactive self-selection of adaptive behaviorallostasisin any way, shape, or
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10 1451
form it sees fit. But if core cognition is not positively assured of safety, it tasks the cortical workspace,
through arousal, with a reactive safety assurance, or vigilance, responsibility. An aroused animal or
human is: (i) more responsive to sensory stimuli in all modalities; (ii) more active motorically; and
(iii) more reactive emotionally [57] and as such better prepared to respond adaptively to the here-and-now.
The model will be addressed in steps. The first step addresses how we can become aware of the
environment during wake-up, and maintain that awareness during the rest of the day. The second and
third steps address diverse forms of attentional control and the relation between perception and
attention. The last step addresses the costs of multi-tasking and how annoying sounds can prevent the
proper execution of self-selected (mental) activities.
3.2. Becoming Aware of the Environment
The first mind-state of a day, sleep, is a reversible behavioral state during which one perceptually
disengages from the environment. While sleeping, we maintain minimal situational awareness.
The disengagement is not absolute, and behaviorally relevant or otherwise salient stimuli of any
sensory modality may awaken. With the exception of exhaustion it is not possible to sleep in situations
that one deems acutely unsafe, since the associated arousal is prohibitive.
Everyone can be awakened by a sufficiently loud noise that exceeds the heightened thresholds
during sleep. Epidemiological studies [21] show that a quiet (well below 45 dB (A) Lnight) sleep
environment is important, since the prevalence of highly sleep-impaired people at 4549 dB (A) Lnight
is already 4.5%. But loudness is not the whole story: sleepers can wake up from some sounds, while
otherpotentially loudersounds will not awake them [26]. Of course sounds are not the only stimuli
that can awake us, strong lights, touch, and endogenous stimuli such as a biological clock or
physiological needs (like the need to urinate) awake us just as well.
Waking-up involves a reengagement to the environment through more elaborate situational
awareness. This reengagement process can be observed as disorientation after one awakes a
sleepwalker [58]. The reengagement process is bootstrapped by information about the current place
(“Where am I?”) and presumably safety (“Is it safe?”), activities (“What is happening?”), and time
(“What time is it?”). Without veridical situational awareness it is impossible to select adaptive
behavior (conform the prototypical lunatic who exhibits inappropriate behavior for a given
place and time).
A phenomenon called perceptual gist can explain both the selective efficacy of some sounds to
wake one up and the bootstrapping of situational awareness. Potter [59] has shown that a preliminary
meaningful interpretation of a complex visual scene occurs within only 100 ms after stimulus onset
(or sometime after the initiation of a conscious state). This preliminary semantic interpretation is
independent of whether or not the scene is expected, it occurs independently of the clutter and the
variety of details in the scene, and it contains typically information about where the scene might
originate. This fast and preliminary interpretation is called the gist of a scene [51] and leads to
conscious awareness in the near absence of attention [33]. Harding et al. [60] concluded there is ample
evidence that auditory processing complies with the ideas initially proposed for vision. Auditory gist
content, which hypothesizes an initial meaningful interpretation of the current sonic environment
through a crude analysis of ambiance and foreground statistics, can also serve as the starting point of
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10 1452
the reengagement process of awaking. The resulting situational awareness will be adapted during the
whole conscious episode.
Perceptual analysis appears to be temporally organized from an initial global structuring (based on
gist and situational awareness) towards more and more fine-grained analyses [52]. The properties of
visual gist [51,61] suggests that visual scenes may initially be processed as a single entity (e.g.,
a sunny beach), and that segmentation of the scene in objects (e.g., palm trees and tourists) occurs at a
later stage. This first gist stage does not require the use of objects as an intermediate representation and
does not rely on complex initial stages of perceptual segmentation. However it is also not able to use
perceptual details. In the domain of sound the hierarchical decomposition model [53] is similar. In this
model, basic stream segregation starts from the whole input (i.e., ambiance and foreground minimally
segregated), in which only a single stream can be attended and subdivided further. This form of
attention is called selective attention.
Selective attention is a form of directed attention that is aimed at the details of one or more
perceptual modalities. Directed attention is also possible without a direct coupling to perceptual
modalities, for example while performing complex calculations or other forms of mental problem
solving (as in box 3 of Figure 2). Directed non-perceptual attention requires a decoupling from
perceptual input because of its irrelevancy for the particular mental task. This entails a balance
between two aspects of directed attention: (perceptual) externally aimed selective attention, which is
facilitated by strong or otherwise relevant input, and internally aimed directed attention for mental task
performance that requires a precise mental state, unperturbed by perceptual distractors. According to
Attention Restoration Theory [62] direct attention involves strong inhibitory processes to suppress
undesired mind-states that become progressively more difficult to maintain, and as such create a
demand for attentive restoration.
3.3. Attentional Control
The sense whose stimulation awoke the sleeper will dominate the initial (multi-modal) gist contents
that functions as a seed of situational awareness after wake-up. Situational awareness consists of a
crude meaningful interpretation of the here and now on which appropriate coping strategies are based.
In addition, situational awareness leads to predicted stimulus statistics that can be compared to gist
contents. Mismatches between expected and actual input and particular learned or innate stimulus
patterns justify attention shifts towards salient stimuli, conform Carpenter et al. [63], to allow
conscious analyses of development in the environment. This provides a reliable and continually
updated basis for proactive adaptive behavior.
In accordance with Jobs [11] conclusion that sensitivity to noise involves at least two distinct
factors, we propose two stimulus routes through which an initial crude analysis of sensory stimuli exert
their influence. Strong unpleasant sensations such as an annoying sound, a foul stench, a burning
feeling, and a disgusting taste function as a modality-specificbut within this modality nonspecific
stressor that arouses and motivates to behave reactively to re-establish safety. This stimulus route is
depicted as sense priority in Figure 2 and corresponds to the distal component of sensitivity to
noise [11]. The other stimulus route, termed modal gist, arouses in a similar way, but on the basis of
mismatches between gist contents and situational awareness.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10 1453
Attentional control is not only influenced by stimulus strength and gist content mismatches, also
social needs (e.g., recognition by others), and physiological needs (hunger, thirst) will compete for a
fair share of the time attention to be aimed at their particular need. The more we satisfy these needs
proactively with, in particular, well-balanced habits “the more our higher powers of mind will be set
free for their own proper work” [64].
3.4. Direct Perception and Restoration
The form of active perception that is least dependent on attentional control is called direct
perception [31,55]. In direct perception, depicted as route and box 2, environmental cues guide
perception and action. A typical activity based on direct perception is walking on a path. After one has
activated a general goal-state, one only has to look in the general direction of the path and somehow
the combination of our bodily and perceptual abilities merge perfectly with the route-options afforded
by the environment. Direct perception allows sleepwalking and the execution of highly trained
automated tasks such as driving home from work. Because direct perception links perception and
action inextricably, it is only possible when the environment is sufficiently redundant to guide action.
If so, these actions provide additional cues to be processed by the perceptual system, which in turn
provides more guidance for the ongoing movement. This loop can persists as long as the conditions for
direct perception (e.g., sufficient sensory redundancy) are satisfied. The loop is discontinued when the
goal is reached, the need satisfied, or more pressing priorities activated.
Direct perception (route 2, Figure 2) allows for the existence of stand-alone modules for automatic
perception-action relations that only have to be switched on and off and that require minimal control
during execution. The main control issue is whether the activity is still relevant as highest priority.
This is a situation in which it is desirable for the organism to delegate control to the environment.
Because direct perception poses minimal demands on directed attentional resources, it requires
relatively little mental effort and minimal arousal. A walk in a park is relaxing because it offers
opportunities for prolonged, uninterrupted, and effortless immersion in a pleasant environment without
posing demands on directed attention (consistent with Attentive Restoration Theory [29]). In addition
direct perception plays a central role in habits, which are both activated and controlled by
environmental cues and can therefore be activated and executed without conscious control.
3.5. The costs of Multi-Tasking
However, depicted as route 4, when particular sounds activate a vigilance task through loudness and
gist contents or other influences (situational awareness, social awareness, or physiological needs) they
will be prioritized andat least part of the timeattended to. This then leads to a situation of
involuntary multi-tasking and associated task switching, where task-related mind-states have to be
partially or completely reconstructed at each switch. At best this leads to an occasional extra mental
effort associated with this switching process. At worst it leads to a situation in which the switching
costs become so profound that the proper execution of the proactive task becomes impossible:
the distractors have become dominant.
Switching cost and the associated arousal may well explain why noise is described as a nonspecific
stressor that arouses the autonomous nervous system and the endocrine system which threatens
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10 1454
homeostatic or adaptable systems in the body” [21]. Because the involuntary vigilance task reduces the
time spent on proactive tasks, and in general prohibits low arousal states required for restoration,
it reduces the time for and quality of restoration and sleep, while at the same time increasing the need
for restoration. This explains why sound annoyed (or in general stressed) individuals exhibit a greater
need for quietness. So eventually the costs of sound-induced multi-tasking becomes apparent as
suboptimal allostasis and eventually disease.
4. Discussion
The previous section introduced a model of the cognitive and especially the attentive mechanisms
via which sonic environments promote or impede health. In Section 2 we had concluded that the
absence of positive indicators of safety force us to attend and address the here and now. Furthermore
the availability of (audible) safety indicators allows the freedom of mind to engage in proactive
behavior for quality of life and health optimization at all time scales. Although the explicit link
between audible safety, proactivity, and freedom of mind-states is new, it is consistent with the
extensive literature on quiet areas, sound annoyance, soundscape quality, and restoration as outlined in
Section 2. It is also consistent with modern insights in cognitive science that begin to elucidate how
conscious states maintain a representation of reality on which adaptive behavior can be based [50].
The concepts that connected the literature analysis in Section 2 with the modeling in Section 3 are core
affect, appraisal and core cognition. The two dimensions of core affect, pleasure-displeasure and
activated-deactivated, dovetail with vigilance functions which are activated whenever positive
indicators of safety cannot be estimated via a cursory (gist-based) analysis of the ambiance and
possible foreground sounds. In these situations arousal increases and behavior changes from proactive
to reactive, which we, for good reasons, interpret as unpleasant.
The estimation of positive indications of safety as basic appraisal of the state of the environment is,
as far as we know, not yet acknowledged as important in the soundscape literature. Nevertheless, its
very basic nature makes it a suitable design guideline. For example in Section 2.2 we coupled the term
chaotic to an unpleasant and eventful state of the sonic environment. It is known that a disordered
visual state of a neighborhood leads to more disorderly and petty criminal behavior [65]. In our terms
this might be interpreted that a chaotic/disordered state of affairs, irrespective of the sensory modality,
moves a person from proactive behavior, which takes the long term into account (It is also my
responsibility to keep the neighborhood clean), to reactive behavior that addresses only short term
needs (Everyone litters, so I can as well). Designing for positive indicators of safety entails,
according to Figure 1, preventing disorder and chaos as much as monotonous and sterile order and
promoting environments that our deepest and most basis perceptual processing interpret as either calm
or lively (see Figure 1). The growing green movement to reintroduce nature in our living
environment might do this already and might find additional arguments in this type of reasoning.
Currently our objective measures of sound quality (e.g., loudness, roughness, sharpness) are
unconcerned about whether the ambiance is indicative of safety, although these objective measures
will reflect certain signal properties indicative of danger. It is important to understand the basis of this
relation. In addition we need design tools that allow us to simulate and appraise the resulting
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10 1455
soundscapes early in the design process so that the current dominance of visual appraisal can be
augmented with auditory appraisal.
4.1. Predictions
The framework presented here leads to a set of predictions that can easily be tested. The literature
analysis of quietness and pleasantness in Section 2.1 mentioned the role of fore- and background.
The background sounds correspond mainly to proximal situational awareness and to the question
Is this a safe place?. The foreground sounds correspond to the loudest and often more distal events
and to the question What is going on?. For example a calm environment was described in
Section 2.1.1 as a harmonious whole without (foreground) sounds that stand out. In combination with
the appraisal in Figure 1(b) this suggests that some combination of pleasant and unpleasant fore- and
background determines the overall appraisal of a soundscape. This is depicted in Figure 3, where for
example a calm environment consists of a pleasant background with few foreground sounds while an
exciting or lively environment has many appreciated and well discernible foreground sounds, conform
the definition of a HiFi soundscape [66]. A chaotic environment may then be interpreted as a confusing
or taxing combination of foreground sounds that on the whole provides no indications of safety
(for example because it does not allow one to settle in a stable interpretation of the here and now,
see Section 2.2). Finally a monotonous or boring environment has few sounds that stand out on a
background not indicative of safety.
Figure 3. Proposed interpretation of different positions of the core affect circle in terms of
fore- and background and pleasant-unpleasant. Unpleasant fore- and background activate a
vigilance function and forces one to be more alert, while a combination of a pleasant
fore- and background allow full freedom of mind states to attend proactive needs.
In combination with the two components of sensitivity to noise we interpret the background as the
backdrop, constituted by the subtle sounds that define proximal situational awareness, on which
foreground activities, determined by the louder sounds of distal situational awareness, are interpreted.
If the interpreted background and foreground predict each other and are indicative of safety the result
is likely to be interpreted as harmonious. These proposed interpretations can all be tested
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10 1456
experimentally. In addition we have proposed that loudness main role is to prioritize audition over
other senses. Which gives it a similar role as stench for smell and pain for touch.
The model outlined in Figure 2 generates detailed predictions about how quietness and pleasantness
can be degraded by activating different functions of core cognition in Figure 2. Conversely
quietness/pleasantness can be restored by the introduction of safety indicators. Table 1 lists five
possible (sonic) grounds to increase arousal or prevent an elevated level from decreasing.
These correspond to the main components on the left of core cognition in Figure 2 and can be tested by
a wide variety of methods.
Table 1. Destroying quietness. Core cognition may arouse (cortical) mind-states on
qualitatively different grounds. Sounds that act via multiple routes are more arousing and
therefore more annoying. Note that the terms in italics correspond to core cognition
functions in Figure 2.
Grounds to arouse
Non-specific arousal, associated with reduced range of
proximal awareness that prioritizes hearing. This works via the
loudness route in Figure 2.
Masking of
reassuring sounds
The absence or masking of positive indicators of safety that are
part of normal natural or social environments. This leads
progressively to a need to establish safety actively via
conscious processes. Acts via gist situational awareness.
situational awareness
When expectations about the proximal environment are
violated, for example by a (novel) sound that could not be
predicted given the current situation. This requires a
reorientation of proximal situational awareness. Acts via gist if
unexpected signal properties are indicative and situational
awareness (if mismatching semantic properties are indicative).
Explicit indications
of danger, typically
through source
Sonic properties can be indicative of potential danger, this is
particularly the case with sounds that elicit negative emotional
responses, such as sounds that, if produced by humans (or
animals), indicate over-excitation [67]. Acts via gist and/or via
social awareness (indicating distress of unknown others).
Indications of lack of
social reassurance
If social sounds are not indicative of safety, they indicate
potential danger. They might even be explicitly indicative of
conflict or danger as in the case of arguing neighbors. This
works via social awareness (maybe in combination with
situational awareness and gist).
We propose that the link between sound and health effects is based on prolonged reduction of
proactive need satisfaction. This entails that the way people experience their environment in terms of
quietness, liveliness, and pleasantness can be used to probe the degree to which they are able to
self-select proactive adaptive behavior. The observation of Booi et al. [4] that highly educated people
appreciate quietness more, suggests the interpretation that they appreciate and/or achieve a higher level
of control over their mind-states than people with less education. This has the potential of being
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10 1457
developed into in situ measures of cognitive functioning and to predict long-term effects of living in
particular environments.
One of the conclusions of Booi et al. [4] was that changing individual needs require a diversity in
the sonic/acoustic environment. This suggests that the decision of what is wanted and unwanted
sound seems to vary more with changing individual needs than with individual differences. If this
conclusion is correct it suggests that a diversity of available acoustic situations (including a sufficient
variety of quiet and lively ones) is preferable over a more uniform set of acoustic environments that
each comply with some (legal) noise limit. This might lead to considerable monetary savings as well as
to more diverse and interesting living environments.
5. Conclusions
This paper addressed the causal link between pleasant and not so pleasant sonic environments and
long-term health effects. We argued that the key factor of quiet and lively (i.e., pleasant) environments
is the freedom of mind-states they afford through the abundance of safety indications. An analysis of
relevant knowledge and an interpretation of core affect in terms of motivation allowed us to formulate
a qualitative but detailed cognitive model outlining how the appraisal of sounds can lead to changes in
arousal. This leads to reduced access to mind-states associated with long-term optimization of adaptive
behavior. As far as we know this is the first detailed cognitive model of the link between sound,
appraisal, mind-states, and health. The key role of the switch between reactive and proactive behavior
on the basis of audible safety suggests that the (re)introduction of audible indicators of safety into our
sonic environments allows people to address their needs better and will therefore be a very effective
route towards sustainable health.
This publication was in part supported by the project Sensor City Geluid, which is funded by
Stichting Samenwerkingsverband Noord-Nederland (SNN).
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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... In the defense and startle responses, the task of initial increased HR (high sympathetic reactivity) is to decrease sensory input. Such adjustment of an individual is mentioned in the proactive coping style (Koolhaas et al., 1999;Andringa and Lanser, 2013), active behavioural adjustments (Obrist, 1981) and 'rejection hypothesis' (Gang and Teft, 1975). However, after this first phase of HR increase, there is a considerable decrease in HR in most cases. ...
... Similarly as in our research, such stimuli elicit low stimulation, being over a lag of time perceived as uneventful and evaluated as highly unpleasant. If the EPs cannot have conscious control over it in order to maintain a sense of autonomy (Cerwén et al., 2016), in the sense of reduced opportunity for learning, limitation of behavioural options (Kang et al., 2016) or obstacles in meeting their long-term needs (Andringa and Lanser, 2013), they exhibit even greater defense responses associated with faster habituation (Melamed et al., 1995). ...
... This puts an individual into the role of free 'agent' within the concept of 'being by doing' (Van den Bosch et al., 2018), who decides for him/herself about what he/she wants and does not want to listen to (Cerwén et al., 2016). Annoying sounds (the sound of a chainsaw) reduce in the EPs the audible indications of safety and trigger the survival (coping) mode of being, which takes them away from tranquil mind-states as well as from a possibility of 'feeling to be present' (Andringa and Lanser, 2013). On the other hand, it can be expected that listening to the sounds of a forest, the EPs want to be part of such a soundscape (environment) which allows them to be in tranquil mind-states and bring them into a so-called flourishing (co-creation) mode of being (Van den Bosch et al., 2018). ...
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We explored differences in the course of physiological functions and in the subjective evaluations in response to listening to a 7-min recording of the sound of a chainsaw and to the sounds of a forest. A Biofeedback 2000x-pert apparatus was used for continual recording of the following physiological functions in 50 examined persons: abdominal and thoracic respiration and their amplitude and frequency, electrodermal activity (skin conductance level), finger skin temperature, heart rate (pulse, blood volume pulse and blood volume pulse amplitude) and heart rate variability (HRV). The group of 25 subjects listening to the sound of a chainsaw exhibited significantly lower values of blood volume pulse amplitude, lower values in peak alpha frequency HRV and higher values in peak high-frequency HRV. In the time interval from 80 s to 209 s, in which the two groups showed the greatest differences, lower values of blood volume pulse were also recorded while listening to the sound of a chainsaw. Listening to the sound of a chainsaw is associated with a greater feeling of fatigue and higher tension, while listening to the sounds of a forest is even considered to elicit feelings of improved learning abilities. The assumption that listening to the sound of a chainsaw results in higher defense arousal was confirmed. The greater variability which is exhibited by a majority of physiological functions while listening to the forest sounds may also be an innovative finding. It seems that there are two types of arousal (sympathetic and parasympathetic) following from correlations between physiological functions and subjective assessment. Low values of blood volume pulse amplitude are especially important from the health perspective. They correspond to the amount of vasoconstriction which occurs in the endothelial dysfunction related to increased mortality, incidence of myocardial infarction, leg atherosclerosis and topically to COVID-19.
... Hence, what is perceived as noise or unwanted sound depends on one's current needs, goals, and activities. Also, people's needs, goals and activities change according to different environments (Andringa and Lanser, 2013). This article underlines the importance of soundscapes in nursing homes, which are the homes of the residents but the workplaces of the staff. ...
... These deep evolutionary roots of core-affect and mood indicate that Axelsson's model is widely applicable to (outdoor and indoor) soundscapes. Theory development led to a classification of the environment in four categories: lively, calm, boring, and chaotic (Andringa and Lanser, 2013). A lively environment offers audible safety and multiple options that attract attention. ...
... In this soundscape, the risk of understimulation is increased. The four categories are determined by four attributes (Figure 1) (Andringa and Lanser, 2013): pleasantness, eventfulness, complexity, and range of affordances. The affordance attribute indicates the extent to which the environment offers options for self-selected behavior. ...
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Introduction Soundscapes in nursing homes are often suboptimal for residents. This can cause them feeling anxious and unsafe, or develop behavioral and psychological problems. Residents with dementia cannot adapt nursing home environments to their needs due to cognitive and physical limitations. It is up to the staff of psycho-geriatric wards to improve the soundscape. We evaluated the effect of the sound awareness intervention Mobile Soundscape Appraisal and Recording Technology (MoSART+) on soundscapes in nursing homes. Methods The MoSART+ intervention was carried out in four nursing homes and took three months in each home. The MoSART+ intervention involved training ambassadors, assessing the soundscape with the MoSART application by the nursing staff to raise their sound awareness on random time points, discussing the measurements, and implementing micro-interventions. Soundscapes were assessed from 0 to 100 on four attributes: pleasantness, eventfulness, complexity, and range of affordances. Based on these scores, soundscapes were classified in four dimensions: calm, lively, boring, and chaotic. Nursing staff graded the environment on a scale of 0 to 10. T-test and Z-tests were used to analyze data. Results Staff recorded 1882 measurements with the MoSART app. “People,” “music, TV, and radio,” and “machines and appliances” were the most prevalent sound sources before and after the implementation of micro-interventions. Post-implementation of micro-interventions, soundscapes were pleasant (median 69.0; IQR 54.0–81.0), of low complexity (33.0; 18.0–47.0), uneventful (27.0; 14.0–46.5), and gave moderate affordances (50.0; 35.0–67.0). Changes in attributes were statistically significant ( p < 0.01). The proportion of the dimension calm increased (z = 12.7, p < 0.01), the proportion of chaotic decreased (z = 15.0, p < 0.01), and the proportion of lively decreased not statically significant (z = 0.68, p = 0.79). The proportion of boring was unchanged. The proportion of grades ≥6 increased after implementation of the micro-interventions (z = 15.3, p < 0.01). The micro-interventions focused on removing or reducing disturbing sounds and were unique for each nursing home. Discussion The MoSART+ intervention resulted in a statistically significantly improvement of soundscapes, and more favorable evaluations of the nursing staff. The intervention empowered staff to adapt soundscapes. Nursing homes can improve soundscapes by raising sound awareness among staff. Trial Registration Netherlands National Trial Register (NL6831).
... Natural sounds may signal a safe environment, reduce anxiety and offer mental recuperation, while a lack of natural sound may provoke a more alert and vigilant state, especially for those from vulnerable groups. 23,24 Acoustic communication is vital for many animal species. Acoustic signals are used in a variety of communication contexts, including territory defence, warning of danger, locating or attracting a mate, and caring for offspring. ...
... 58 While noise level is an important aspect, soundscape quality is also contextual and influenced by non-acoustic factors, including the feeling of safety, which may be a notable concern for women and for parents. 23,58,60 Quiet areas are more generally understood as places with pleasant soundscapes or where unwanted sounds are mostly absent; they are often combined with positive landscaping elements, like greenery and water features. [59][60][61] Providing or protecting these spaces is a more passive, yet still valuable, way of regulating against noise in urban areas. ...
... Soundscapes provide detailed sensory information about the surroundings, raise expectations, and cue behavior (Brooks et al., 2014). As the perception of sound can influence well-being and promote or impede health (Andringa & Lanser, 2013), research in acoustics and psychology aims to improve the sound quality in care facilities and reduce unwanted noise . These studies have also suggested that adding enjoyable sounds can improve overall sound quality and benefit residents (Hayne & Fleming, 2014;Talebzadeh et al., 2020). ...
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Researchers are investigating how soundscapes can reduce agitation and contribute to the well-being of people with dementia. We advance this research by exploring further how to incorporate the personal background and preferences of individuals with dementia in soundscapes to evoke storytelling and meaningful activity in their everyday surroundings. In this study, we assembled personal soundscapes that were evaluated in individual participatory workshops with six care home residents with dementia. The workshops provided insights into the experiences of people in the mid to advanced stages of dementia listening to personal sounds. The results demonstrate how these soundscapes evoked: interaction with surroundings; open-ended storytelling; activation through pleasurable experiences; and rest and comfort. We propose implications for design to adopt personal soundscapes in care to support engaging and meaningful one-on-one activities in the care home.
... There is no physical difference between sound and noise, rather the difference lies in the individual's perception of whether that sound is wanted or not [15]. Noise is any sound that is considered unpleasant by an individual and inhibits the reception of wanted sounds [13] [16]. ...
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Noisy environments can have a negative impact on wellbeing. While most research related to noise has focused on hearing, sleep, performance and cardiovascular health, investigations of the detrimental effects of noise on mental health show conflicting evidence in relation to depression, anxiety and chronic stress. Our study investigates the relationship between noise exposure and anxiety in the indoor restaurant environment, exploring the predictive value of individual noise sensitivity, noise annoyance and personality factors on self-reported anxiety levels while dining in a restaurant. This mixed methods survey using validated measures with a random sample (n=274, >18 years), predicts high scores in noise sensitivity and noise annoyance corresponding with increased levels of anxiety, and further, anxiety levels in attending a restaurant predicted by Big Five Personality characteristics of Extraversion and Neuroticism. Regression analysis results show statistical significance for noise sensitivity and noise annoyance as strong predictors of self-reported anxiety. Neuroticism predicted anxiety, while Extraversion and Agreeableness did not uniquely predict anxiety. Conscientiousness had a significant negative relationship with anxiety experienced in restaurant dining. Individual characteristics of personal experiences of restaurants diners are discussed, suggesting design and layout implications for restauranteurs in addressing of noise effects in their establishments.
... In cognitive science and psychology, there is a universal agreement on the relation between cognition and emotion (Kuppens et al, 2012). While studying the different methods of organizing qualitative data I came across the "core affect and appraisal" model (Andringa & Lanser, 2013;van den Bosch et al, 2018). Andringa & Lanser mentioned the effect of the sonic environment on behaviour and looked at direct relation between "the way we appraise the situation and the selection of overt behaviour" (2013). ...
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Noise is an important sensory stimulus in any environment, especially in unfamiliar settings. Noise is impossible to ignore, and any disturbing noise or constant sound can be agitating, disturbing, and confusing for people who cannot escape the environment. People with dementia may already feel strange, isolated, and confined inside care facilities; uncontrolled sound can add to their anxiety and agitation. A review of existing research shows an interest in sound mapping and soundscaping of care facilities; however, there is a lack of research specific to dementia care units. Soundscape refers to the human perception of the sonic environment in context: it does not only rely on the subjective quality of sound by measuring the sound level but also, the objective quality of the auditory environment is based on people’s perceptions. This study aims to develop a soundscape of the dementia care unit at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, through data collection and observation and to evaluate the quality of soundscape in the units. Further, the study introduces a systemic design for improving the quality of soundscape in dementia care units. The proposed system, through real-time interaction with the environment, active monitoring of sound, and a feedback mechanism, adapts and controls the sonic environments and is designed to improve the auditory situation of dementia care units.
Dementia-friendly communities make living with dementia possible. After all, a large number of people are affected by dementia in one way or another. In a dementia-friendly community, people continue to participate in life by being addressed on their abilities rather than their limitations. Designing dementia-friendly environments is one of the key elements. In this chapter, the ten design principles of Alzheimer’s Disease International are discussed and illustrated with Belgian examples.KeywordsDementiaDementia-friendly communityBuilt environmentIn- and outdoors
Elevated roads bring considerable noise pollution and have huge negative effects on the quality of roadside public spaces. There is growing evidence that noise pollution should be addressed within a broader soundscape methodology rather than merely noise control. In this study, objective sound level measurements and subjective questionnaires were conducted in the 20 study sections of public spaces on both sides of the East Ring Elevated Road in Suzhou, China. This study aims to explore the soundscape characteristics in such spaces and identify the influencing factors of soundscape evaluation. The results show that the soundscape compositions (sound level and sources) of pedestrian areas, street parks, and commercial plazas are significantly different. In addition, the dominant sounds, vehicle driving sounds (34.5%), have no correlation with soundscape satisfaction, while fountain (p<0.01), horn (p<0.01) and siren sounds do (p<0.01). Adding natural sounds (p<0.05), reducing mechanical sounds (p<0.01) , and optimizing landscape (p<0.01) can improve soundscape quality. Moreover, respondent characteristics are correlated with soundscape evaluation. Furthermore, the dimensions of soundscape perception could be classified into four factors, quietness, pleasantness, eventfulness, and distinctiveness, for a complete understanding of soundscapes. A model of spatial characteristics (natural-artificial, wide-narrow) to predict soundscapes evaluation is also constructed.
Many studies discuss the impact of music programs on prison inmates. However, few studies have investigated the impact of music programs on formerly incarcerated individuals (FIIs), and none of them have focused on the programs’ characteristics. This phenomenological study explores the characteristics of a music-based rehabilitation program for FIIs. Five FIIs and three staff members who participated in a group music program were interviewed. The following four themes emerged: Continuity—the importance of the FIIs’ previous positive acquaintance with the program while still being in prison. Egalitarian approach—the importance of the staff treating the FIIs with understanding, tolerance, non-judgmentalism, and the use of an eye-level approach. Cultural sensitivity—the staff members’ sensitivity to the FIIs’ different backgrounds to form a connection. Playfulness—the program’s ability to break free from a “fight-or-flight” mode and experience a counter mode of playfulness. The findings are discussed through the perspective of positive criminology.
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The soundscape approach considers the acoustic environment as a resource, focusing on sounds people want or prefer. Quiet is not a core requirement for such acoustic preference in the outdoor acoustic environment. Core requirements include congruent soundscape and landscape, and dominant wanted sounds in a place over, and not masked by, unwanted sounds. Acceptance, and further development, of the soundscape approach is facilitated by distinguishing it, both conceptually and in measurement and management approaches, from environmental noise management. Soundscape design, planning, and management, based on soundscape concepts, augment environmental noise management approaches, expanding the scope of application of the tools of acoustic specialists.
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The aim of this work was to investigate the validity of laboratory soundscape reproduction and the robustness of soundscape dimensional analysis. The soundscapes in four urban locations in Manchester (UK) were recorded with a soundfield microphone. The soundscapes were reproduced through an ambisonic 3D loudspeaker system in a semi-anechoic chamber. Fifteen listeners rated the reproduced soundscapes on nineteen eleven-point semantic differential scales. Factor analysis revealed that four dimensions explained 65% of the variance in the judgements. The dimensions were: relaxation/calmness (41%), dynamics/vibrancy (10%), communication (7%) and spatiality (7%). This experiment can be compared with that of Kang (2007), who used very similar rating scales on outdoor soundwalks in two locations in Sheffield (UK). Kang found dimensions of relaxation (26%), communication (12%), spatiality (8%) and dynamics (7%). The dimensions from the two experiments load onto the semantic scales in a similar way. These results indicate that ambisonic reproduction of soundscapes gives similar results to field experiments, though with more variance explained. They also show that dimensional analysis of soundscape response is robust enough to produce similar results for different locations in different cities. It is suggested that the dimensions that result from this kind of experiment depend somewhat on the rating scales and questions used. Nevertheless, soundscapes and their perceptual dimensions both seem to be reproducible to a meaningful extent.
At the heart of emotion, mood, and any other emotionally charged event are states experienced as simply feeling good or bad, energized or enervated. These states - called core affect - influence reflexes, perception, cognition, and behavior and are influenced by many causes internal and external, but people have no direct access to these causal connections. Core affect can therefore be experienced as free-floating (mood) or can be attributed to some cause (and thereby begin an emotional episode). These basic processes spawn a broad framework that includes perception of the core-affect-altering properties of stimuli, motives, empathy, emotional meta-experience, and affect versus emotion regulation; it accounts for prototypical emotional episodes, such as fear and anger, as core affect attributed to something plus various nonemotional processes.
ABSTRACT Studies in scene ,perception ,have ,shown ,that observers,recognize ,a real-world ,scene ,at a ,single glance. During this expeditious process of seeing, the visual system ,forms ,a spatial ,representation ,of the outside world,that is rich enough,to grasp the meaning of the scene, recognizing a few objects and other salient information in the image, to facilitate object detection and the deployment ,of attention. This representation refers to the gist of a scene, which includes all levels of processing, from low-level features (e.g., color, spatial frequencies) to intermediate image properties (e.g., surface, volume) and high-level information (e.g., objects, activation of semantic knowledge). Therefore, gist can be studied,at both,perceptual,and conceptual levels. I. WHAT IS THE “GIST OF A SCENE”?
Background: Sleep plays a critical role in maintaining health and well-being. Yet hospitalized patients are frequently exposed to noise that can disrupt sleep. Efforts to attenuate hospital noise have been limited by incomplete information on the interaction between sounds and sleep physiology. Objective: We examined the cortical (electroencephalographic; EEG) arousal responses during sleep to typical hospital noises by sound type, sleep stage, and sound level in order to determine profiles of acoustic disruption of sleep. Design: Three-day polysomnographic study with a baseline (sham) night followed by two intervention nights. Settings: Soundattenuated sleep laboratory. Participants: Volunteer sample of 12 healthy subjects. Intervention: We systematically administered 14 recorded hospital sounds at calibrated rising decibel levels (total=3,147) during specific sleep stages. Measurements: EEG arousals, using established criteria, during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, and non-REM stages 2 (N2) and 3 (N3). Results: Sound presentations yielded arousal response curves that varied due to sound level, sound type, and sleep stage. Higher sound levels led to a greater probability of sleep disruption. Electronic sounds tested were more arousing than other sounds, including human voices. The effects of sound level and sound type were modified by sleep physiology, producing unique arousal probability profiles in each sleep stage. In REM sleep, the range of responses across sound types was narrowest, suggesting less differentiation of sounds. Limitations: Results in healthy people may underestimate effects of noise in hospitalized patients. Conclusions: This study systematically quantifies the disruptive capacity of sounds on sleep. These arousal-probability profiles can be expected to drive innovation in design, construction, engineering, building materials, equipment and care-giving protocols, with the goal of providing environments conductive for sleep among hospitalized patients.
People have emotional reactions to the built environment, and the sonic environment is one of the major contributing factors of people’s experiences of places. It is useful for decision makers such as planners, architects, engineers and designers to understand the link between the soundscapes of built environments, and their resultant emotional reactions within users of those environments. This understanding can allow these decision makers to make better informed decisions about built environment design, and achieve the desired positive emotional responses from users. The issue under question, and the subject of this paper, was to understand and define the emotional dimensions of a soundscape, and then to explore how the resultant dimensional space could have a practical application in decision making. Through data generated through the Positive Soundscapes Project, a Principal Component Analysis was conducted to decompose descriptors of the urban soundscape into two independent emotional dimensions. It was found that the two independent emotional dimensions of a soundscape relate to its “Calmness” and “Vibrancy”, and these could be positioned to describe a 2-Dimensional (2-D) perceptual space. Listening evaluations were then conducted to explore how perceptions of different types of urban soundscape could be plotted with the 2D emotional perceptual space, and to illustrate how (i) introducing design interventions can change the position of soundscapes within this space and (ii) how metrics such as dB(A) do not necessarily correlate with calmness and vibrancy scores. Through illustrative examples, we suggest how such a 2-D perceptual space might have a practical use in the planning process, primarily as a means for presenting users’ perceptions of soundscapes in a simple, visual, and easy to compare manner, and for setting targets for current and future soundscape design. We conclude with recommendations for further work required to fully develop these emotional dimensions and the 2-D perceptual space into a useful tool.
This paper reviews research in place attachment and organizes the material into three sections: research, method, and theory. A review of several hundred empirical and theoretical papers and chapters reveals that despite mobility and globalization processes, place continues to be an object of strong attachments. The main message of the paper is that of the three components of the tripartite model of place attachment (Scannell & Gifford, 2010a), the Person component has attracted disproportionately more attention than the Place and Process components, and that this emphasis on individual differences probably has inhibited the development of a theory of place attachment. Suggestions are offered for theoretical sources that might help to fill the gaps, including theories of social capital, environmental aesthetics, phenomenological laws of order, attachment, and meaning-making processes that stem from movements and time-space routines.
A set of 105 commonly used adjectives descriptive of the affective quality of molar physical environments was developed and factor analyzed (based on 323 subjects' ratings, each of a different environment). Two, independent, bipolar factors of affective quality-pleasing and arousing quality-were obtained and shown to correlate highly with subjects' affective reactions of pleasure and arousal to the environments. The pleasing and- arousing quality dimensions were hypothesized to summarize the emotive capacity attributed to environments and to adequately define the numerous affective descriptors commonly used: peaceful, festive, hectic, disgusting, boring, and the like. They were also offered as partial interpretations of the semantic differential factors of evaluation and activity, respectively.