Nature soundscape experiment launched!

Posted on 2nd April 2019

A new national experiment gets underway today, aiming to shed light on how ‘listening to nature’ could impact wellbeing.

The study is one of the biggest investigations ever conducted into the therapeutic effects of sound and is launching alongside an innovative new BBC Radio 4 podcast, called Forest 404.

With a focus on different environments, the project hopes to develop a unique insight into how the British public respond to nature-based sounds, and is part of wider research led by the University of Exeter exploring how immersion in ‘digital nature’ could be used to improve health and wellbeing.

Alex Smalley, lead researcher on the project, said: “A large body of evidence shows that spending time in natural environments can have positive effects on people’s wellbeing. But we know very little about the importance of sound in this relationship.

“Could simply listening to birdsong or waves lapping on the beach be enough to help people recover from a stressful situation? The effects won’t be the same for everyone, so we want as many people as possible to take part and help us uncover what works and why.”

Anyone over the age of 18 can take part in the experiment, which is available online at Participants will be asked to listen to several different sounds and will need to have headphones or speakers at the ready.

Forest 404 is a sci-fi thriller by Timothy X Atack, set in the 24th century following a data crash called The Cataclysm. It follows Pan (Pearl Mackie), a sound archivist who uncovers some sound recordings from the early 21st century that haunt her. They are recordings of rainforests, places which no longer exist, and Pan feels compelled to hunt down the truth about how the forests of the old world died. Each episode of the thriller is accompanied by a factual talk which guides listeners through different themes of the drama and an experimental soundscape.

It’s hoped the study’s findings will form the basis for bringing the benefits of nature to people who might not be able to access them, such as patients in hospital, older people in long term care, or those who work in stressful situations.

You can listen to BBC Radio 4’s Forest 404 on BBC Sounds and take part in the experiment here

The project is a research partnership between BBC Radio 4, BBC Natural History Unit, University of Bristol, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, The Open University, and University of Exeter.

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