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President's Podcast: Sound & Psychology

Solutions for Higher Education engages in deeper reflection of critical issues in the world of colleges and universities.grand-staircase-national-monument

In Episode 21, President Scott L Wyatt and Professor Steve Meredith are joined by SUU Psychology Professor Dr. Britt Mace to discuss how sound and noise can affect the way people behave. His studies in the field of environmental psychology touches on how physical and social surroundings can influence the way we think, feel, and act.

“The last few years I’ve been out in the Grand Staircase National Monument,” said Mace. “We’ve been collecting baseline acoustic data out in that area to validate some models that look at how quiet or how loud specific areas are, and what are the individual species and types of sound inputs that are prevalent in an area. And the Grand Staircase has been an interesting location because it’s one of those areas within Southern Utah that hasn’t been completely discovered yet, and so it was wonderful to have an opportunity to go out to a number of different areas that are somewhat visited and not visited at all.”

Mace’s team started collecting data from 10 different locations but ended up collecting acoustic data from 17 places, which in his opinion only scratches the surface of what’s available. Mace has a collection of sounds from the past 25 years and as technology has improved their collection system and archives have increased dramatically.

“Each location we go, we spend a month out there—our equipment does—so vicariously we’re there,” said Mace. “We record the sound as well as the decibel level so we have an understanding of how loud and how quiet different areas are. And that creates an archive that you can then go in and compare at any other point in the future. And so the library is, in a sense, a library. It will always be there, and so you will know on what date, at what time, at what place it sounded like there. When we analyze our data, we actually transform our sound into something that we can see, which enables us to go in and identify individual sounds. Each site that we record, we’re there for a month, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so we are upwards of 17,000 hours of recordings. We’ve barely begun to create the sound library, and we already have some amazing things.”

From jet planes to spotted owls and coyote calls, Mace’s team has collected and analyzed hundreds and thousands of hours worth of recordings. These clips are then sent to biologists, national park administrations and professors to be used in research studies and for educational purposes.

“We live in a noisy world, and we have areas where we’re lucky enough—especially in our region, our location—to escape some of the stresses that you experience in cities,” said Mace. “When you ask visitors to public areas why are they there, ‘experience the scenery, the natural beauty’ is always number one, and ‘experience the quiet and the sounds of nature’ is always number two. Sound is oftentimes ubiquitous. It surrounds us and it does impact us, both physiologically and psychologically.”


Listen to Episode 21 here:



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