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Keywords:

  • Cognition;
  • Sensation/perception;
  • Normal volunteers;
  • fMRA/PET/MRI;
  • Heart rate

Abstract

Predominantly, the impact of environmental noise is measured using sound level, ignoring the influence of other factors on subjective experience. The present study tested physiological responses to natural urban soundscapes, using functional magnetic resonance imaging and vector cardiogram. City-based recordings were matched in overall sound level (71 decibel A-weighted scale), but differed on ratings of pleasantness and vibrancy. Listening to soundscapes evoked significant activity in a number of auditory brain regions. Compared with soundscapes that evoked no (neutral) emotional response, those evoking a pleasant or unpleasant emotional response engaged an additional neural circuit including the right amygdala. Ratings of vibrancy had little effect overall, and brain responses were more sensitive to pleasantness than was heart rate. A novel finding is that urban soundscapes with similar loudness can have dramatically different effects on the brain's response to the environment.