Regardless of the actual chances of being the victim of a random murder in a dark alley, people tend to get the willies in deserted, shadowy public places. But the right sounds can put people at ease in an otherwise creepy, isolated parking garage or metro station, a new study in the International Journal of Research in Marketing finds. Natural sounds, like human voices and bird songs, can make people perceive their surroundings as safer and more comfortable.
Researchers played bird songs, classical music, and no sound to study participants in a Parisian parking garage, then asked them how safe they felt. Those who heard tweeting birds reported feeling safer than those who heard music or nothing at all. In a subsequent experiment, songs with people singing also made participants feel more at ease than the instrumental music. In another test, participants shown a video of a metro station said they would be more likely to buy a monthly metro pass at that station if there was some sort of singing (human or bird) going on in the background.
“Bird songs and human vocal sounds give a sense of social presence and seem to be the most effective to use,” study co-author Aradhna Krishna of the University of Michigan said in a press statement. “They even lead to more positive consumer responses and overall higher satisfaction with these places."
However, people do sometimes get the willies for good reasons. Ambient sounds could give people a false sense of security in places that are truly unsafe. But for otherwise secure places that could benefit from a little boost in comfort (like some subways), a few bird songs could go a long way.