Published: 02 February 2024

University of Surrey hosts successful international workshop

International Workshop on Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Soundscapes and Wellbeing showcases exceptional progress in the field 

The University of Surrey's Environmental Psychology Research Group recently hosted a world-leading international workshop titled "Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Soundscapes and Wellbeing." The event, held on January 16, 2024, brought together leading experts and researchers from around the world to explore the intricate relationship between soundscapes and human wellbeing from multiple perspectives. 

The workshop, financially supported by the University of Surrey's School of Psychology, the UK Acoustics Network, and the UKRI funded project "AI for Sound" (EP/T019751/1), was a resounding success, drawing participation from 180 individuals online and 28 attendees in person. 

The event featured four distinguished keynote speakers, each offering unique insights into the intersection of soundscapes and wellbeing.  

  • Dr. Miriam Weber, Chair of the WHO European Healthy Cities Network, delivered a compelling keynote showing how to incorporate positive soundscapes into city planning by limiting unwanted noise and enhancing wanted sounds by adding vegetation and biodiversity. Dr. Weber's presentation emphasized the importance of fostering environments that promote positive soundscapes for urban dwellers. 
  • Dr. Jean Marc Wunderli, Head of the Acoustics Noise Control Laboratory at Empa, enlightened attendees with his keynote talk on innovative approaches to noise reduction through the integration of vegetation as a sound quality enhancement measure as well as their psychologically restorative benefits. 
  • Prof. Simone Kühn, Head of the Lise-Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, delivered a thought-provoking keynote on what happens in the brain when listening to noise pollution and positive soundscapes of nature. Asking "what is the best environment for the brain?” Prof. Kühn's presentation shed light on the intricate relationship between environmental factors, brain function, and mental wellbeing. 
  • Dr. Taylor Shaw, Conservation Scientist at the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, UK, brought an ecological perspective to soundscapes, discussing the relationship between forest soundscapes and mental health and wellbeing. Dr Shaw’s talk sparked discussions on the potential benefits of diverse forest ecosystems for human health.

In between the keynote presentations, academics, practitioners, and civil servants delivered dynamic flash presentations which delved into various aspects of soundscapes and their impact on wellbeing: 

  • Societal Engagement with Soundscapes: Eight flash presentations explored the use of soundscapes as part of a multi-dimensional experience for planning decisions. Participants contemplated questions such as: What do we want our places and cities to feel like? What do we want them to sound like?  
  • Soundscape Modelling & Use of AI: Six flash presentations focused on how Artificial Intelligence can be harnessed to map tranquil places in cities, reconstruct soundscapes of the past, and predict what places will sound like in the future. Attendees gained insights into the innovative applications of AI technology in understanding and shaping soundscapes. 
  • Nature Soundscapes & Biodiversity: Seven flash presentations centered on the beneficial aspects of nature sounds on people. Participants explored the diverse sounds of nature and their potential to promote mental wellbeing and enhance biodiversity conservation efforts. 

The workshop provided a unique platform for interdisciplinary dialogue, fostering discussions at the intersection of psychology, acoustics, ecology, and public health. Participants engaged in thought-provoking sessions, delving into topics such as the influence of birdsong on mental health, the role of sound in architectural design for improved wellbeing, and the application of artificial intelligence in sound analysis for environmental conservation. 

"We were overwhelmed by the level of interest in this workshop online and were honoured to host such a great array of speakers representing the leading thinkers in soundscapes and wellbeing research and practice" remarked Dr Sarah Payne, Senior Lecturer at the University of Surrey. "The diverse perspectives, interests and expertise shared by participants underscore the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in addressing contemporary environmental and health challenges." 

The success of the workshop, run by Dr Eleanor Ratcliffe, Dr Melissa Marselle, and Dr Konrad Uebel and supported by MSc Environmental Psychology students, highlights the growing recognition of the critical role sound plays in shaping our physical and emotional experiences. By fostering interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration, the University of Surrey continues to lead the way in advancing research and innovation in environmental psychology and soundscape research, engagement and practice. 

More information about the workshop and upcoming events hosted by the University of Surrey's Environmental Psychology Research Group is available.

Share what you've read?

Related content