Researchers at King’s College London used a smartphone app to assess whether contact with birds improved people’s mental wellbeing
“By using the Urban Mind app we have for the first time showed the direct link between seeing or hearing birds and positive mood. We hope this evidence can demonstrate the importance of protecting and providing environments to encourage birds, not only for biodiversity but for our mental health.” Ryan Hammond, research assistant, King’s College London
Seeing or hearing birds is associated with an improvement in mental wellbeing that can last up to eight hours, research from King’s College London has found.
The study, which has been published in Scientific Reports, used a smartphone application called Urban Mind to collect participants’ real-time reports of seeing birds, or hearing birdsong, followed by their report of their own mental wellbeing.
The research took place between April 2018 and October 2021, with 1,292 participants completing 26,856 assessments using the app, which was developed by King’s College London, landscape architects J&L Gibbons and the arts foundation Nomad Projects. Participants came from across the world, with the majority located in the UK, the US and the EU.
Three times a day, participants answered a question about whether they could see or hear birds, then a series of questions about their mental wellbeing, to see if it was possible to establish a link between the two.
The researchers also collected information on existing diagnoses of mental health conditions. They found that hearing or seeing birdlife was associated with improvements in mental wellbeing in both healthy people and those with depression.
They controlled for confounding effects, such as the possibility that the improvement in mood might be accounted for by co-occurring environmental factors such the presence of trees, plants, or waterways.
Ryan Hammond, the lead author of the study and a research assistant at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London, said: “There is growing evidence on the mental health benefits of being around nature and we intuitively think that the presence of birdsong and birds would help lift our mood. However, there is little research that has actually investigated the impact of birds on mental health in real-time and in a real environment.
“By using the Urban Mind app we have for the first time showed the direct link between seeing or hearing birds and positive mood. We hope this evidence can demonstrate the importance of protecting and providing environments to encourage birds, not only for biodiversity but for our mental health.”
The authors of the report say their findings “have potential implications for both environmental and wildlife protection and mental health care policies. Specific measures, aimed at preserving and increasing everyday encounters with birdlife in urban areas, should be implemented.”
Jo Gibbons, a landscape architect and J&L Gibbons and a partner in the research, said: “This exciting research underpins just how much the sight and sound of birdsong lifts the spirits. It captures intriguing evidence that a biodiverse environment is restorative in terms of mental well-being. That the sensual stimulation of birdsong, part of those daily ‘doses’ of nature, is precious and time-lasting.”
This is an intriguing study, and supports previous research findings that contact with the natural world has benefits for mental health. We need to be cautious about over-interpreting the results, however. Knowing the purpose of the study, participants might have felt prompted to respond more positively to questions about their mental health after coming into contact with birds. That said, the study does suggest a promising avenue for further research.