The Evolution of Soundscape Appraisal Through Enactive Cognition

Kirsten A. M. van den Bosch, David Welch, Tjeerd C. Andringa

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32 Citations (Scopus)
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We propose a framework based on evolutionary principles and the theory of enactive cognition (“being by doing”), that addresses the foundation of key results and central questions of soundscape research. We hypothesize that the two main descriptors (measures of how people perceive the acoustic environment) of soundscape appraisal (‘pleasantness’ and ‘eventfulness’), reflect evolutionarily old motivational and affective systems that promote survival through preferences for certain environments and avoidance of others. Survival is aimed at ending or avoiding existential threats and protecting viability in a deficient environment. On the other hand, flourishing occurs whenever survival is not an immediate concern and aims to improve the agent’s viability and by co-creating ever better conditions for existence. As such, survival is experienced as unpleasant, and deals with immediate problems to be ended or avoided, while flourishing is enjoyable, and therefore to be aimed for and maintained. Therefore, the simplest, safety-relevant meaning attributable to soundscapes (audible safety) should be key to understanding soundscape appraisal. To strengthen this, we show that the auditory nervous system is intimately connected to the parts of our brains associated with arousal and emotions. Furthermore, our theory demonstrates that ‘complexity’ and ‘affordance content’ of the perceived environment are important underlying soundscape indicators (measures used to predict the value of a soundscape descriptor). Consideration of these indicators allows the same soundscape to be viewed from a second perspective; one driven more by meaning attribution characteristics than merely emotional appraisal. The synthesis of both perspectives of the same person–environment interaction thus consolidates the affective, informational, and even the activity related perspectives on soundscape appraisal. Furthermore, we hypothesize that our current habitats are not well matched to our, evolutionarily old, auditory warning systems, and that we consequently have difficulty establishing audible safety. This leads to more negative and aroused moods and emotions, with stress-related symptoms as a result.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1129
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 9-Jul-2018


  • soundscape
  • Enactive Cognition
  • Evolutionairy Psychology
  • Soundscapes Descriptors
  • Soundscapes Indicators
  • audible safety
  • Tranquility

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