Staring at a natural scene — the trees in the park, an afternoon river, sunshine on a corn field — can help you recover from stress, fatigue, and even physical illness, including sickness and surgery, research has found. Now, a new study suggests natural sounds, whether recorded or live, may be beneficial to your health. Participants who listened to a recording of a natural soundscape showed greater mood recovery after a disturbing event than those who listened to the same soundscape but with added human-made sounds, such as voices and cars. “Natural soundscapes can provide restorative benefits independent of those produced by visual stimuli,” wrote the authors in their published research.

For the current study, researchers at Pennsylvania State University—Abington began by recruiting 133 student participants. First, the researchers divided the participants into four groups and then they recorded each participant’s mood as measured on the Brief Mood Introspection Scale (BMIS). After watching a disturbing three-minute video depicting hand surgery, including close up footage showing exposed tissues beneath the skin, the groups of participants took the BMIS test once again. Comparing the results, the researchers found all four groups showed similar readings at the start of the experiment and a significant worsening of mood after watching the video.

Next, the four groups of participants listened to one of four different recordings: natural sounds only (recorded by the United States National Park Service); natural sounds mixed with human voices; natural sounds mixed with motorized noises; and simple silence. Again, the researchers assessed participants’ moods using the BMIS. Finally, the researchers crunched the numbers and compared the results.

Remarkably, only one group recovered their original mood after listening to a recording: the participants who listened to the fully natural sounds. The other three groups showed no change from the disturbed mood aroused in them when they watched the hand surgery video.

In a discussion of their results, the researchers speculate a real, ecological setting would have different effects from the technological substitute they used here — the effects would be stronger. Conversely, they believe not all natural sounds are created equal and some may have less or no restorative effect whatsoever, while some man-made sounds might have positive effects. The violent sounds of a thunderstorm, for instance, might not ease the mind whatsoever, while a gentle voice singing a lilting melody might equal the soothing effects of a gentle rainfall.

Source: Benfield JA, Taff BD, Newman P, Smyth J. Natural Sound Facilitates Mood Recovery. Ecopsychology. 2014.