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1. Effects of Sounds on Preferences for Outdoor Settings

DescriptionThis paper investigates the ways in which vegetation modifies the human response to sound in an outdoor setting and examines acoustic impacts on aesthetic evaluations of different settings. In particular the researchers were looking for evidence that people perceive that noise has been abated due to trees and shrubs, even where planting is too sparse to produce a physical abatement of noise.
MethodologyFollowing a variety of preliminary studies to establish a research methodology, ten sound stimuli covering a range of sounds heard in urban, rural, and natural settings were selected. These sounds were played to ten student subjects at each of five field test sites ranging form urban to rural in character. The results were compared to the reaction of other subjects to tape-slide presentations. It was found that the procedure used to obtain the results did not influence the results significantly.

The original research hypothesis was not substantiated. The authors concluded:

  • Naturalistic Sound Effects: Naturalistic sound stimuli affect the quality of outdoor settings.
  • Types of setting: Sounds have different impacts as a function of the setting in which they are heard
  • Vegetation Effects: Scenes with vegetation seem to increase expectations of environmental quality. In undeveloped natural sites as well as in urban parks and residential streets associated with human activity, human and mechanical sounds were considered detracting. People are less tolerant of certain human and mechanical sounds in areas where there are trees than in areas with no trees.
  • Acoustic versus visual evaluation: In urban streets with and without trees, the scene with trees received an average scenic or visual evaluation considerably higher than the scene lacking trees. Differences among sounds at different sites were not statistically significant and not as substantial as other site differences found. The authors conclude that acoustic quality of the environment is less responsive to vegetation than is visual quality. Trees are still better than no trees!
PublishedEnvironment and Behavior 15 (5): 539-566
AuthorsAnderson, L.M., Mulligan, B.E., Goodman, L. S. and Regen, H.Z.
DateSeptember 1983
PublisherSage Publications Inc.
Pricesubscription c. 183 p.a. (6)
Keywordsacoustic, environmental aesthetics, environmental noise

There is little research into the acoustic impacts on aesthetic evaluations of the environment. The authors suggest that the reasons for the emphasis on visual features of a setting are twofold. First, that researchers consider visual features of paramount importance and second that there is a lack of generally accepted methods for assessing the aesthetic impact of sounds outdoors. This research addresses the second issue and gives useful guidance on the management of research into the interaction of sound and setting including suggestions for the methodology of future research.

The paper gives interesting examples of how sound and setting interact but does not examine in any depth the role acoustics play in determining our aesthetic response to the natural environment.


Reference is made to the following studies of acoustic impacts on urban and recreational setting:

Southworth, M. (1969). The sonic environment of cities. Environment and Behavior 1: 49-70 (auditory information enhances settings).

Kariel, H. G. (1980). Mountaineers and the general public: a comparison of their evaluation of sounds in a recreational environment. Leisure Science 3: 155-167.

Rylander, R., and Sorenson, S., and Kajland, A., (1976). Traffic noise exposure and annoyance reactions. Journal of Sound and Vibration 47: 237-242.