On June 1, Dr. Hope Hui Rising presented her paper entitled “Mitigating stress-inducing effects of viewing urban hardscapes with water sounds,” which won the second place for the 2017 Best Paper Award from the Environmental Design Research Association.
With a repeated measures design, we investigated the potential of waterscapes in mitigating the stress-inducing effects of viewing hardscapes. A total of 18 participants were recruited in the vicinity of a park dominated by concrete surfaces and waterscapes. We randomly assigned participants to view either water or concrete first at each of the nine waterscape locations with varying water sound types and volume levels. Participants viewed each visual stimulus without controlling their gaze for 15 seconds. Then, they repeated the viewing protocol while fixating their gaze at one point. The investigator used a mobile eye-tracker to verify that the assigned stimulus was viewed with the correct gaze. Participants also wore a mobile sensor that measured their body temperature, galvanic skin response (GSR), and skin conductance level (SCL). Previous studies suggest that mitigation of stress responses is associated with a lowered skin conductance level (GSL) (Hietanen & Korpela, 2004), galvanic skin response (GSR) (Bakker, Pechenizkiy, & Sidorova, 2011), and body temperature (Briese & Cabanac, 1991).
We found a significantly greater body temperature drop in waterscape locations in front of a waterfall compared to the locations above and behind the waterfall. The findings suggest that waterfall sound may have greater stress-reducing effects than the sound of smaller waterscapes behind the waterfall due to the waterfall’s meditative sound quality or higher sound volume. Water sounds may help offset the stress responses associated with viewing concrete because there were no significant changes for GSR or SCL. The inconsistent results across measures suggest that future studies should examine the effects of both water sound types and volumes and lengthen participants’ exposure to a higher baseline stress level. This study provides preliminary support for the use of waterfalls as effective public health interventions to help alleviate the stress-inducing effects of viewing a predominately hardscaped urban environment.