A large majority of offices protect the privacy of conversations by using sound masking systems. Jonas Braasch, an acoustician and musicologist at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and colleagues have found that natural sounds like a flowing stream used in a masking system improve productivity and mood.
The standard sound in sound masking systems has been white noise for over 40 years. The researchers based their investigation on previous studies by the same group that showed people could regain their focus on a complex task more quickly by listening to natural sounds as opposed to electronically generated sounds or no sound masking. The key to successful sound masking is a sound that has sufficient randomness but is not distracting.
The researchers tested their theory on 12 subjects. Each person was given a complex task that required intense concentration. At different times, each person was exposed to the sound of water flowing in a mountain stream, normal office noise with no masking, and the conventional random electronic signal. All of the participants found the natural sounds allowed them to concentrate more effectively and maintain a better mood even while dealing with an intricate task.
The researchers suggest that their discovery may have medical applications that would reduce the tension that is natural in a hospital stay as well as potentially being a treatment for anxiety. The advantage to an employer is considered to be an improvement in employee’s perception of the employer. The basis for the discovery probably has its roots in ancient human development. The majority of ancient human societies developed along waterways. The sound of water flowing may have been incorporated into the human psyche as soothing and invigorating.
Sound is an intricate part of people’s lives that is often unnoticed at a conscious level. The research shows that the noise in the background of an office setting has a direct correlation with the mood of workers and their productivity. Natural sounds might be a way to improve the performance of students at all levels of education.