Published on 09/11/2015
A new academic study carried out by Alain Goudey, research professor at NEOMA BS, shows that an adapted sound atmosphere can make public places safer.
At certain times of the day, certain public places are scary: underground parking, subway stations, airport tunnels, etc. This fear, often irrational, increases if the place is badly lit or quiet. How can the operator of these spaces combat this instinctive fear?
The new study led by Alain Goudey, Associate Professor at NEOMA Business School and Associate Director of AtooMedia shows that certain sounds and music can create a feeling of safety in public places.
"The question of anxiety in an underground car park is not just an emotional issue; it is also a question of economy, as people will decide to avoid places that are too stressful. Using music to modify one’s anxiety is not new! However, we wondered if a musical atmosphere alone could change the emotional charge of these places. The answer is YES!” asserts Alain Goudey.
The results of this study will be published in the next edition of the International Journal of Research in Marketing (review recognized by CNRS and ranked 3*) and are the fruit of an international collaboration involving as well as Alain Goudey, Eda Sayin, Professor at IE Business School in Madrid (Spain), Aradhna Krishna, professor at Michigan University (USA), Caroline Ardelet, Professor at l’Université de Paris-Ouest Nanterre and Gwenaëlle Briand-Decré, Professor at l’Université d’Angers.
Thanks to the field research, in an underground car park in Paris, and four experiments in a laboratory, the researchers studied the effects of various sound atmospheres on the feelings and behavior of people using the car park and a subway station.
The field study involved airing classical music, bird song, or having no sound in the car park. It then transpired that people who heard bird song felt safer than those who had heard classical music or just ‘natural’ noises of the area.
"And yet some car park managers, among the biggest players, still use classical music today whereas our study shows that it is not really the best choice!" specifies Alain Goudey.
The following experiment allowed us to add sounds with the human voice. It then transpired that “bird song" and human sounds were more effective at creating a feeling of presence and thus a return to the feeling of safety.
Finally, we tested the effect of sounds on consumer behavior. The participants in the study watched a video of a route through a subway station with the sound of either a human voice, or bird song , instrumental music or no sound atmosphere at all. There again, the respondents who were in the condition of “bird song” evaluated the station as being safer and were more inclined to buy a monthly pass on that line.
This study clearly shows that an appropriate sound atmosphere can improve the perception of places usually considered stressful and increase the feeling of comfort and safety. Bird song or the human voice creates a feeling of presence which in turn improves the customer’s global perception of the area and their satisfaction.
“Be careful however, of the coherence between the space and sound as hearing bird song in an underground car park can seem non congruent” warns Alain Goudey.