HR & Management

Local soundscapes: How sound can change consumer attitude

3 min read

14 April 2014

Since our earliest days, sound has provided us with a depth of awareness about our surroundings that no other sense can match. However, the buildings and structures that make up our cities are designed almost entirely using visual aesthetics.

While reading the piece it may aid your concentration to listen to this sample from the Sound Agency…

To some extent, the blindness (or deafness) to the impact that sound has on us has become even more serious in the modern day. As populations continue to expand we’re living in a world that is steadily becoming noisier. Research from the World Health Organisation has found that regular exposure to noise levels of just 50dB is enough to increase blood pressure, leading to a higher risk of heart attacks (as a point of reference average noise level in a busy office or classroom can exceed 65dB). Then, once you get to hospital, the battle continues as standard hospital wards are now being recorded with noise volumes as high as 92dB – nearly double the acceptable standard.

On the other hand, silence is not the solution. The complete absence of noise is just as unnatural. The sample that you’re listening to now is a generative sound installation that Glasgow Airport trialled in its departures terminal – the scheme was put in place to sooth passengers in a potentially stressful environment. In this case researchers found that travellers admitted to feeling more relaxed, even in cases where they hadn’t realised the soundscape was playing. And perhaps more surprisingly retailers noticed an uplift in sales during the trial, with some periods seeing an increase of nearly ten per cent in passenger spending. 

The Glasgow case study is far from the only example of how sound can have a powerful effect on the local populace. Across the Atlantic, in the town of Lancaster, California, they experienced a 15 per cent drop in reported crime after the local mayor installed a birdsong-based soundscape in the downtown area. Organisations, including the London Underground, are following this lead expecting similar gains – when tube stations, including Brixton and Clapham North, noted decreased levels of violence following the introduction of classical music.

Sound may no longer be as important for warning us of predators as in the past but, as the research suggests, risks still exist. It’s clear that taking control of local soundscapes can have a positive effect, avoiding the aggravation of uncontrolled noise and offering tangible benefits such as improved health and behaviour of those in the surrounding area. We need to begin constructing our sound environments as carefully as we would the façade and interiors of our buildings. Improving sound design isn’t about bringing home cinema to life, or turning amps up to 11, but is something that can be of real value to our society, health, and economy.

For more information, please see the whitepaper ‘Building in Sound’.

Graeme Harrison is Executive Vice President of Marketing of Biamp Systems.

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