New Research Shows Birdsong Can Keep You Feeling Chirpy!

Studies spotlight the benefits of hearing birds sing.

Yellow Wagtail singing on a tree branch


Does your neighborhood have plenty of birds? This could be good news for your mental health  because birdsong can help relieve anxiety. This is the upbeat finding of a study published in the Nature Portfolio journal, Scientific Reports, illuminating the remarkable healing power of birdsong.

Meanwhile another recent study on the impact of birdsong, based on real time feedback via app, also points to a sustained  improvement in mental wellbeing. 

Birds as mood boosters
Since the arrival of Covid,the increased anxiety and depression that people experience has been well documented, for instance in this World Health Organization overview

In an effort to understand the influence of birdsong on mental health, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, joined scientists from the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University of Hamburg-Eppendorf to evaluate how birdsong and, by contrast, manmade traffic noise affect mood, paranoia and cognitive functioning. They did this in an online experiment involving 295 healthy people. These participants heard either six minutes of traffic noise, or birdsong, completing questionnaires before and after hearing the sounds. 

Significantly, the study authors emphasize that healthy people can also experience anxiety and temporary paranoid perceptions. They believe that the questionnaire helped identify these tendencies in healthy participants without them having a diagnosis of mental health issues.

The study's conclusions are interesting. Researchers found that hearing birdsong soothed and reduced  anxiety in healthy participants but did not appear to worsen depressive states. Traffic noise, meanwhile, was found to worsen depressive states. The study found that both traffic noise and birdsong did not impact cognitive performance.

And if just hearing birdsong has such a calming effect when listened to via computer, Emil Stobbe, an author of the study, suggests this effect could be even better in the great outdoors.

How does tweeting goodness work?
But how can outdoor sounds impact mental health?

The researchers believe that birdsong is a subtle indication of an intact natural environment, signalling a vital and threat-free safe space for humans, and taking our attention away from stressors

But Stobbe offers another answer too, as quoted by Newsweek: "An alternative explanation is that humans may generally associate positive experiences with natural sounds, like birdsongs, which, when the sound is heard, activates these memories and relieves stress."

The findings suggest exciting applications through using birdsong soundscapes in settings such as hospitals and therapy hubs to lift spirits. Further research could test how birdsong could help patients with diagnosed anxiety disorders and if birdsong sounds could be used to prevent mental disorders. 

A call to protect birds due to urbanization
The global move to cities, which has been linked to worsening mental health, according to Neuroscience News, in a discussion of this new research, also makes understanding how the urban environment affects our wellbeing an important priority. It is clear that birdlife has been adversely affected by urbanization, in terms of habitat loss and other negative impacts such as disorienting noise pollution. The Swaddle observes that humans should read this as a warning to protect biodiversity so that city dwellers don’t end up only accessing birdsong via digital media.

Checking your mood in real time via mobile!
The second recent study, also published in Scientific Reports,  is titled “Smartphone-based ecological momentary assessment reveals mental health benefits of birdlife.” It concludes that seeing or hearing birds is linked to an improvement in mental wellbeing that can last  for up to eight hours.

Some of the almost 1,300 participants suffer from depression, the most common mental illness worldwide. Improvements were also evident in people with a diagnosis of depression.

As Science Daily reports, the scientific team at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, used smartphone app, Urban Mind, which asks users to “Help us understand how city living is affecting mental wellbeing” in the moment. During the study, conducted between 2018 and 2021, it asked participants three times daily, in real time, if they could see birds, followed by questions on mental wellbeing so researchers could establish an association between the two.

In a moving comment, research partner and landscape architect, Jo Gibbons observes:  "Who hasn't tuned into the melodic complexities of the dawn chorus early on a spring morning? A multi-sensory experience that seems to enrich everyday life, whatever our mood or whereabouts. This exciting research… captures intriguing evidence that a biodiverse environment is restorative in terms of mental wellbeing. That the sensual stimulation of birdsong, part of those daily 'doses' of nature, is precious and time-lasting."

Lead author, Ryan Hammoud, explains to Science Daily that while there is growing evidence of the mental health benefits of being around nature, research on the power of birds to uplift us has been limited: “By using the Urban Mind app we have for the first time showed the direct link between seeing or hearing birds and positive mood.” 

Hammoud hopes that this evidence will encourage the greater protection of birds and their environments, not just for biodiversity, but for our mental health too.

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