Life these days is often filled with noise and stress. Now researchers have discovered a simple way to help people have better mental health, and it involves just paying attention to something that is all around us.
A group of scientists from London has shown that listening to birds can help people handle depression and anxiety, according to a new study.
They write, “A growing body of empirical evidence is revealing the benefits of nature for mental health, including higher mental wellbeing and lower risk of mental illness. The vast majority of the literature has focussed on the value of regular contact with green spaces including forests, parks, gardens and trees. A smaller portion of the literature has investigated the value of blue spaces, including visible bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, canals, ponds and seas. While these studies have led to growing appreciation of the mental health benefits of nature in general, we know little about the specific features within green and blue spaces which are driving these benefits. The present investigation focuses on a feature of the natural environment which has captivated humans over the centuries and yet has received very little scientific attention: birdlife.
In the United Kingdom, our captivation with birds is underlined by the fact that over 1.3 million people are members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (more than the members of all political parties combined). Interest in birds is not a uniquely British phenomenon. In the United States, for example, over 70 million people are interested in birdwatching, making this one of the most popular nature-based recreational activities. Birdwatching societies are not a phenomenon unique to the western world but are present worldwide, including countries with very different traditions and cultures. Despite the human fascination with birdlife, few studies have specifically examined the impact of encountering birds as part of everyday life on our mental health.
Using semi-structured interviews, Ratcliffe and colleagues reported that most people experience birdsong as restorative from psychological stress and attentional fatigue. In a follow-up investigation using quantitative measures, the same authors reported that specific qualities of bird sounds such as perceived familiarity, complexity and pattern are predictive of perceived restorative potential. Our encounters with birdlife, however, are multi-sensory experiences, typically involving both auditory and visual modalities in various degrees. It follows that both modalities need to be considered when assessing the possible benefits of birdlife for mental health. Consistent with this idea, a recent investigation showed that the perceived restorative potential of natural features such as wetland paths are enhanced by the presence of birdsong.”
To test their theory, the researchers explained that they used the Urban Mind smartphone app to study the impact of hearing and seeing birds and people’s mental well-being.
And sure enough, it worked!
After looking at the data, they concluded, “Everyday encounters with birdlife were associated with time-lasting improvements in mental well-being. These improvements were evident not only in healthy people but also in those with a diagnosis of depression, the most common mental illness across the world.”
So next time you’re feeling stressed, take a walk in the park and listen to the chirpers. It may do you some good.