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Improving the Daily Conditions of Life through Acoustics

Elaboration 2018 24 Pages

Physics - Acoustics

Excerpt

Abstract:

Acoustics plays an integral role in human behavior and health. Not only are there useful applications of acoustics, such as using findings from research to predict Alzheimer’s Disease or to induce different emotions such as happiness or sadness, but acoustics can also be used to potentially solve one of the most serious problems in the environment: noise pollution. Noise pollution is quickly becoming one of the biggest issues of the 21st century, and this has led to an alarming increase in the population affected a tinnitus, a medical condition that is related to hearing loss. In fact, “it has been estimated that 94 percent of the people in the United States suffer from some degree of tinnitus.”[1] Furthermore, noise pollution greatly affects worker productivity and their health. In order to solve these problems and better society, many different steps have been taken to try and reduce the amount of noise pollution. Some include creating more productive office designs in order to counteract this problem or allowing ANC (active noise control) devices to be more accessible to the public. One aspect of acoustics that this study focuses on is psychoacoustics and understanding how acoustical properties of multiple environments affect behavior. This study will attempt to discover the potential correlation between noise pollution and human behavior. Acoustics and noise pollution are certainly intertwined, and if a connection exists between acoustics and human behavior, then it can be conjectured that a possible correlation can be created between noise pollution and human behavior. What this study intends to focus on is what factor specifically manipulates the correlation between acoustics and human behavior, and in order to explore this issue, a thorough meta-analysis will be conducted.

1.1 - Introduction:

Acoustics is defined as the physics of sound. Sound is observed as a mechanical vibration that disturbs the equilibrium of an elastic material medium, such as air or water.[2] Sound is something that surrounds people at all times, and it is one of the most dominating forces in the environment. For this reason, acoustics exists in order to explain how sound works and propagates itself through the environment. In this specific paper, I plan to delve into psychoacoustics, which is known as the branch of acoustics dealing with how sound psychologically affects the human brain and behavior.

It has already been proven in the past that sound--and acoustic engineering as a whole--has many different applications. Anna Barney, Professor of Biomedical Acoustic Engineering at the University of Southampton, discovered that analyzing speech patterns may be an indication of a form of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s.[3] Furthermore, a study by Ana Tajadura-Jiménez, Pontus Larsson, et al. revealed that the room size of a room changes the emotional responses of people.[4] Both of these studies have revealed two important aspects of human nature and behavior in terms of acoustics. Psychoacoustics plays such a key role in daily life that various factors affecting people’s behaviors can often be reduced to the sound in the environment.

1.2 - Noise Pollution:

One major problem that modern society faces today is the problem of noise pollution. The Environmental Encyclopedia, from Gale Databases, states that 94% of Americans have some degree of tinnitus, a hearing loss disorder.[5] Most of this tinnitus is caused by the excessive amounts of noise pollution in the environment. Some of these causes include--but are not limited to--cars, airplanes, loud music, or construction work. The problem here, however, is that according to the American Hearing Research Foundation, there is no treatment or cure for most types of hearing loss.[6] Perhaps if this medical condition was reversible or curable, then noise pollution would become less of an issue.

An interview between Stacy Fitzgerald-Redd and Jeremy Luscombe revealed that excessive amounts of noise--even background noise--can reduce productivity by 66% and also induce stress, which includes high blood pressure and a spike in heart rate.[7] This is only one aspect of the impact that noise pollution can have on the public. It not only undermines worker productivity, leading to less income and economic benefits, but can also negatively impact employees’ lives.

1.3 - Potential Solutions:

Of course, even though there is no silver bullet to noise pollution, many steps are being taken to reduce the amount of damage that noise pollution can do. One study, conducted by Ya-Lin Yu, Yu-Tin Chao, Lai-Chung Lee, Jia-Yush Yen, and Yun-Chiu Fan, created an innovative office design implementing acoustical theorems such as the double wall principle or a pentagon-shaped design that would decrease the amount of noise pollution by a significant amount.[8] These are important steps in the monumental task of solving noise pollution. Another significant step included the creation of a more accessible and portable active noise control (ANC) device.[9] ANC devices are meant to reduce low-frequency sounds. These low sounds are often ignored, but these noises have a large impact on the subconscious and mental health of the people in the environment. These sounds are quite enigmatic, and it is extremely hard to reduce these types of sounds in the environment. For this reason, although this ANC device is still in its experimental stage, it is still an amazing step towards stopping the amount of noise pollution in the world today.

However, one solution that has not yet been implemented or researched completely is the use of acoustic engineering to reduce noise pollution in neighborhoods or public spaces. Although steps have been taken to reduce noise production of machinery and technology, noise pollution still takes such a prominent role in the environment. Many groups of people, such as the elderly, suffer largely from hearing loss due to the acoustical problems in the built environment.[10] Although some of the causes may come from deterioration of the ear or the fact that they were exposed to general amounts of noise over a longer time period, many of these old individuals stated that one of the major problems was poor speech communication, due to reverberant spaces and background noise. Applications of acoustics into the built environment has begun to be explored and may be the next step in solving this environmental issue of noise pollution.

One aspect of acoustics I wish to focus on this study, however, is psychoacoustics and how acoustics affects the brain and human behavior. It is not unknown how sound affects humans; music has been known to create a vast variety of emotional responses.[11] However, the effect that the acoustical properties of an environment have on human behavior is still quite unknown. This is the knowledge gap that I would like to explore for this study, as it is a part of psychoacoustics that is yet to be explored. If a certain correlation between acoustics of a room and human behavior exists, then a conjecture can be made that noise pollution definitely affects human behavior, and it makes noise pollution a problem that not only then concerns the environment but also our society as well.

2.1 - Research Design:

This paper aims to answer whether acoustics affects human behavior through changing auditory perception. In order to do so, the best and most intuitive way to answer this question is through experimental and correlational research. By directly using human participants, auditory stimuli, and different acoustical environments, some sort of correlation--or disassociation--will be observed. However, an experiment requires extensive lab equipment that is not available to students, and therefore, I will be unable to conduct an experiment. Instead, non-experimental research in the form of meta-analysis will be used in order to discover whether there is a correlation between acoustics and human behavior. This method is very reliable in creating a solid conclusion based on the material in different sources. This method is also used commonly in psychology, which is directly related to psychoacoustics.

The first thing to realize is that different auditory stimuli such as a dog barking, classical music, or a rock song evoke different emotions and responses. The classical music may cause relaxation while rock songs will incites excitement and energy. A jazz song may encourage dancing, or a dog barking could cause feelings of happiness or distress, depending on the tone of the dog.

These different sounds also have inherently different tempi, which have been known to cause different psychological effects. In a study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, different music tempi change the efficiency of exercise; medium tempi have the greatest effect on intrinsic motivation and have been shown to yield the best results in exercise.[12] Not only are the notes important, but the timing and the rhythm are important--significant enough to affect the psychological and physical response of humans.

The intensity of a sound also plays into the role of auditory perception. Donald H. Mershon and L. Edward King’s study asserts that “Both auditory intensity and reverberation” are different properties that “produce systematically varying judgments of perceived distance when” the same auditory stimuli is repeated “to the same observer.”[13] Evidently, the loudness and perceived magnitude of the sound will change the different reactions that the different participants will have. It is important to realize, however, that too much noise can be extremely harmful. According to Figure 1, prolonged exposure to 90 dB or higher is dangerous, and it can cause serious damage to one’s ears without any sort of hearing protection. 90 dB is comparable to traffic, and even higher volumes are comparable to the sounds of loud rock concerts, jet engines, or a gun muzzle blast, which are loud enough that exposure should be limited as much as possible. Due to its great magnitude and sound intensity, it creates an uncomfortable feeling for the listener, which is another example that supports the logic that magnitude does affect human behavior and psychological responses.

Figure 1: Approximate Decibel Levels in Real World Examples.[14]

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2.2 - Hypotheses and Assumptions:

First of all, it is important to address that I will be assuming that acoustics will directly affect human behavior. In order to find a correlation between acoustics and human behavior, it needs to be assumed that there is already a direct relationship between the two. Previously, in the literature review, it was stated that room size does indeed change emotional responses to sounds--whether that includes intensifying those emotions or providing calmer reactions. Although room size is a big factor in room acoustics, it is also important to address the reflections, diffusions, and absorptions that the sound waves in the room are experiencing. In order to explore the effect of acoustics on human behavior, it is important to first address that these acoustical qualities will in fact even change human behavior.

One study published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America explores the effect of reverberation on the auditory perception of participants.[15] This specific experiment tested the participants through different trials of auditory stimuli in different environments, and as a result, the researchers were able to deduce that some used reverberation time or the direct/reverberant energy ratio to determine their bearings and the room size. Although this source does not discuss the psychological implications of their findings, it is clear that reverberation makes a huge difference in the human participants’ mind.

One keen example of this effect--concerning how reverberation affects the auditory perception of humans--is personified in a study that explores the effects of acoustics on the performance of an employee in a working environment. These employees were instructed to complete a questionnaire in both a private office and an open-plan office, and the results undoubtedly showed a revealing trend about open-plan offices; compared to private offices, employees in the open-plan office displayed increased distraction, reduced privacy, increased concentration difficulties, and increased use of coping strategies.[16] The reason for this extremely negative response to the open-office may be due to the amount of increased social interaction and noise levels, but it is clear that the poor acoustics also plays into this negative response in the open-office design. The noise levels were amplified by the increased number of reverberations in the office, which leads to the amount of decreased worker efficiency. Whereas the open-plan office decreased the amount of work completed, the private-office system was much more successful in achieving workplace goals. This is one example that brings to light the effect acoustics on the psychological behavior of humans.

Through our research, we can find that if acoustics can be used to adjust the emotional responses of people, we can reduce the amount of noise pollution in our environment, we can propel the advancement of society and encourage cooperation. Acoustics is already used and applied to business conference rooms and others, and applying this to daily life would benefit all people. It will make acoustics have another meaningful application in our environment. Not only will acoustics be able to improve human behavior in modern society, but it will also strengthen the importance of reducing the amount of noise pollution. The amount of noise directly correlates to auditory perception and psychological behavior; as the noise levels of a room increases, the auditory perception diminishes and psychological behavior generally worsens; the trend is mostly negative as the intensity level of the noise increases.[17]

2.3 - Obstacles

It is important to realize that there are many limitations and potential errors in this study. Due to the use of non-experimental research, there are definitely limitations in the sense that there may not be any studies or information about certain aspects of my research. One obstacle that could impede my research is simply the lack of information in this field. This should not serve as a major problem to my research, but it is important to address it as one of the limitations of this study.

Another potential margin for error is the use of generalizations. In order to use meta-analysis, generalizations must be made on certain quantities across multiple sources in order to find a significant trend or correlation. Therefore, although the analysis may provide a big picture of the issue, it does not include the entire picture of the issue. It only contains a portion of all of the data in order to make a general consensus and conclusion to the data.

Furthermore, the use of correlational research adds a degree of uncertainty in my data; although it is a common method used in psychology and is often the most recommended method to pursue this kind of study, it can all crumble due to this statement: correlation is not causality. It might seem that there is a correlation between two separate variables, but in actuality, it may have been a coincidence. However, my research mainly focuses on the possibility of where there might be a variable that correlates between noise pollution and human behavior, and I believe that my research and correlational methods will be sufficient enough to answer this question.

3.1 - Initial Connections:

The first step in understanding how acoustics affects behavior requires the knowledge of how music or sounds affect human behavior. Through multiple sources, it is found that the effects of music are many; they can range from increased amounts of cortisone, testosterone, and oxytocin to the change in metabolism, respiration, or even patterns of brain waves.[18],[19] Therefore, the effects of music in changes of the body are very prevalent. Along with the modified patterns of brain waves, these work together to create a significant change in human behavior. This is supported by the fact that musicians have a greater amount of gray matter in their brain compared to nonmusicians due to the acquisition or development motor and auditory skills.[20]

Now that there is a basic understanding of how exactly music affects human behavior, we need to next understand the effect that acoustics of an environment has on music. Obviously, concert hall acoustics has different properties from a studio room, and these acoustical properties must be analyzed to understand how they affect music. There exist many different acoustical properties, such as reflection or diffraction, but the acoustical property that I will focus on in this study will be reverberation, which is mainly dependent on the size of the given space in which the sound is propagated in and the materials. These will noticeably change how exactly a sound will propagate itself over the course of time. As seen in Figure 2 below, the different environments vary substantially in size and reverberation time, and this is what gives them that distinct sound in each environment. Music largely depends on the reverberation time, denoted by RT60, which refers to the amount of time it takes for a sound to decay 60 dB. This dictates the amount of time a sound seems to stay in the air. The materials also make a huge difference in affecting the reverberation time and how exactly the sound interacts with the environment; acoustic foam is known to absorb noise, and this leads to a clearer sound compared to concrete which just reflects the noise back, creating more acoustic chaos in the environment. It can make beautiful notes linger in a concert hall, or it can release a symphony of cacophonies in an echoing gymnasium.

Figure 2: Common Acoustical Environments[21],[22],[23],[24]

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Now it is clear how exactly acoustics affects music; the reverberation time and mechanical properties of the materials influence the sound and music in the environment. Now comes the important part where we connect the dots: how does the acoustics affect human behavior? It is already clear that the prevalence of noise will create a more detrimental effect; this is seen in Figure 3 down below. Therefore, it is logical to say that if the acoustics is adjusted so that there less reverberation time (as this quantity largely controls the amount of lingering sound, manipulating the amount of total sound), it will likely improve human behavior. This can mean improvements in social conduct or increased academic performance.

Figure 3: Potential Negative Effects of Noise Pollution[25]

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3.2 - The Classroom:

A compilation of different studies about the classroom environment and its acoustics proves just that. 5 separate studies, although they focus on different aspects of the classroom environment, prove the underlying argument that acoustics are central to a student’s learning and behavior. The literature review recognizes that the classroom is contingent on many factors, of which is the architecture and design of the classroom.[26] This is a good introduction to the data, and the article published by Woolner, Hall, Higgins, McCaughey, and Wall all proves a point that this amount of noise may lead to irritation, loss of concentration, and a lack of learning.[27] The next two sources, however, use numerical figures to prove their point of how important acoustics are to the educational environment. It is seen that in the study authored by Crandell and Smaldino, a trend was seen that the test results decrease as the distance from the noise source (the teacher) decreases.[28] In the fourth study, a trend is seen that as a student gets older, the effect that the acoustics has on the student decreases and the audibility increases.[29] This is extremely important, as the students get older, test results will have a smaller differential based on the distance from the teacher, and the effect that acoustics has on the students’ test results decreases. Therefore, it is logical to say that acoustics in the classroom may not play that big of a role in higher education, but due to the results in Crandell and Smaldino’s study, acoustics in the classroom environment are important in the primary school environment. This is especially corroborated by the conclusions of Dockrell and Shield’s study about acoustical barriers in the classroom environment; not only does the acoustics of the classroom lead to decreased academic performance, but the prevalence of noise also led to negative trends in subjects reading and spelling.[30]

An important conclusion from this meta-analysis is that acoustics play a less significant role in learning and understanding as one increases with age. Although this is significant, there exists one final conclusion which directly answers the question that I am answering: as audibility decreases, the academic performance also suffers. This is especially since in Crandell and Smaldino’s study in which the test results worsen as the distance from the student to the teacher increases.[31] This directly shows how the acoustical properties of a room affect the performance and behavior of a person; the reverberation time directly affects the audibility of a person in a given environment, and this shows that reverberation time has an inverse relationship with behavior, as the greater reverberation time creates less speech intelligibility. This is seen especially in how a greater reverberation time encourages greater amounts of sound, which result in lower test scores and academic proficiency.

3.3 - The Gym:

This correlation found in the classroom is also inherent in the gymnasium environment. The first concept that must be understood is the acoustical environments of the gymnasiums found throughout the entire nation. According to a study conducted and published in 2008, only about 5% of the gymnasiums actually met the noise requirements of the recommended noise level.[32] This means that the majority of gymnasiums all across the nation have a reverberation time of over the recommended noise levels of 1-2 seconds--some even have levels of 4 or more seconds of reverberation time--and this discovery is very alarming. A reverberation time of 1.5 seconds is optimal, as it maximizes the amount of energy in an environment without compromising too much speech intelligibility (which is especially important during games or school assemblies in a gym), but since gyms have reverberation times over 2 seconds, the level of speech intelligibility and audibility is significantly crippled.[33]

Due to the fact that the audibility is significantly impaired, this leads to two different scenarios: the overall atmosphere of the gym is very energetic or interpersonal relationships deteriorate due to the amount of frustration birthed from the inability of communication. Similarly, in the classroom environment, the amount of performance was affected by the amount of reverberation time or the audibility between the student and teacher. It especially proves true in this study in which the reduction of reverberation time led to the improvement in overall behavior and demeanor.[34] Furthermore, the increased noise exposure due to the unusually high reverberation times also leads to a significant amount of hearing loss.[35] Already it is clear that if there is a high amount of noise pollution and hearing loss, it leads to detrimental health effects, such as a higher risk for cardiovascular disease (see Figure 3 above). Overall, it is clear that through the amount of reverberation time in a gymnasium environment, the overall behavior and conduct is negatively impacted.

3.4 - The Office:

The last acoustical environment that will be explored in this study is the office environment, or, put more broadly, the working environment. Earlier in the paper, the difference between the open-office and the private office and the relative effectiveness of the two was discussed, and this initial discovery will be further discussed here. One of the main reasons why the private office prevailed in terms of effectiveness over the open office was due to the absence of a high reverberation time.[36] Perhaps it was also due to a greater amount of privacy or lack of distractions, but all of this stems from the small reverberation time. The small amounts of noise accumulate in the office environment due to the reverberation time and these small noises contribute to “quasi-noise pollution” in the environment, which fosters the seeds of chaos and unproductivity.

This rings true in other studies about the office environment. One model shows that the amount of speech intelligibility--which reverberation time directly affects--directly correlates with the amount of productivity.[37] A study focusing on a small office model shows that the more absorbent rooms had a higher sound localization score compared to the more reverberant rooms; the absorbent rooms provided more audibility than the reverberant rooms.[38] Both of these show the importance and relevance of reducing the amount of reverberation time in order to improve the amount of worker productivity.

One source from my meta-analysis seems to state the contrary: minimizing speech intelligibility increases the amount of worker productivity.[39] Although this encourages increasing the amount of reverberation time, it is actually very clear that this is done in order to reduce the number of side conversations and distractions in the open-office environment. The underlying correlation is still clear: manipulating the amount of reverberation time in order to maximize the amount of productivity.

4.1 - Discussion and Justifications:

This study’s entire purpose was to examine whether the acoustical properties of the environment affects auditory perception and human behavior in any way. Through my meta-analysis, the underlying factor in determining the relationship between acoustics and human behavior is very clear; this factor is reverberation time. In the classroom, it was clear that a smaller reverberation time is optimal. In the gym, a higher reverberation time is acceptable, but too high leads to negative impacts on health and psychological behavior. In the office, reverberation times can be high or small, but preferably small in order to foster speech intelligibility but also minimal noise pollution. Whether the reverberation time affects the behavior positively or negatively, it is clear that this is one of the major factors in determining the relationship between acoustics and human behavior.

Although I had first considered experimental and correlational research, as they are one of the best ways to approach this question and problem, I eventually realized that I would need extensive lab equipment in order to truly analyze the emotional responses of the participants. That is why I opted for meta-analysis instead, a method that is commonly used in psychology. Although predicting the patterns of the brain has been a field that has been studied over centuries, and even with enhanced technology or improved scientific approaches, the human brain is an extremely advanced supercomputer that has and could never be completely mapped for at least the next century or so, psychology has surely improved, and it can help to generalize the patterns of human behavior. In such an obscure field as psychoacoustics, it is probable that an experiment may be more effective, but it is better to opt for a more non-experimental approach due to the lack of materials to conduct the experiment effectively. However, if I were to pursue an experimental research study concerning acoustic perception, I would probably create an experiment where I test 5 auditory stimuli in 3 different acoustical environments and have the participants be exposed to them and record their response. This would focus on observing how their emotional responses changed according to the different acoustics. Perhaps a complicated 3D model to simulate acoustic environments would be also used in conjunction with this research method. Also, for the experiment, I would opt for a more free-response survey. Although making the participants scale their reactions on a numerical scale from 1 to 5 or 1 to 10 would make data analysis simple, this method is majorly flawed and has numerous limitations. Not only does it limit the amount of freedom that the participants could express about their reaction to the sound, but it is also subliminally influencing them to think or react in a certain way. This would definitely skew results and seem much more inflated than they actually were. So, opting for a more free-response questionnaire in which the participants could just state how they felt with minimal external influence would be much more effective.

4.2 - Applications:

This study can be applied to real-world scenarios today. First and foremost, many highways and roads today use walls in an attempt to reduce the amount of sound from propagating into neighborhoods, parks, and other public spaces. This is a good step in the right direction, but it still lacks a lot of sound absorption, and it is often ineffective. One group of researchers (Celia A., Carlos, L., et. al), in an attempt to improve the amount of sound absorption, have used co-combustion bottom ash to create a more effective sound barrier on highways.[40] Many efforts, especially this one, have been better than their commercial counterparts, and this is a revolutionary step in the process of reducing noise pollution. Using the knowledge gained from the research, we can find that reducing the amount of noise pollution that traffic creates in our daily lives will lead to greater worker productivity, improved mental health, and a higher quality and standard of living. Imagine the possibilities if the human race had discovered what my research has found: perhaps this greater sense of productivity would have led to the creation of a cure for cancer or the creation of smarter smartphone technologies.

It is also important to recognize applications of the different results from the acoustical environments. Based on the previous research that I have conducted, I can firmly conclude that classrooms should be designed in such a way that the reverberation time should be limited and that the distance between the student and teacher should be reduced. This can mean using different types of materials or encouraging the use of acoustic panels for proper acoustical treatment of these environments. For the gym, the regulations put in place--for the acoustical requirements--need to be more heavily enforced. A reverberation time of 1.5 seconds is the optimal quantity, and this should be put into every single gymnasium around the world. Lastly, the office is potentially one of the most important environments that needs to be improved. A private office needs to be pursued, and although it may cost more money to implement, it will provide more income and profit in the long run. The applications of this study prove to be many, and they can be implemented into our society without delay.

4.3 - Conclusions:

From this study, it is clear that acoustics does indeed affect human behavior. Whether it is in a classroom environment or a concert hall, the acoustics will always play a role in amplifying or harming human behavior. This happens through the fact that acoustics affects the auditory perception of humans, leading to the manipulation of audibility, the ability to discern sounds from noises and understanding the speech of the other person. Acoustics is able to do that through the manipulation of the reverberation time. More reverberation time means more obscurity in the exchange of speech between people. Sometimes, that is a good thing; it allows for sound to blend in a concert hall setting. However, it can also lead to increased irritability and loss of concentration, as seen in the meta-analysis of different acoustical environments. Overall, acoustics is a part of the built environment that has never been ignored in the past, and due to this new discovery, it is more important than ever to secure the best acoustics for an environment.

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Details

Pages
24
Year
2018
ISBN (Book)
9783668733633
File size
739 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v427202
Grade
90.0
Tags
improving daily conditions life acoustics

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Title: Improving the Daily Conditions of Life through Acoustics