New research from King’s College London has found that seeing or hearing birds is associated with an improvement in mental state that can last up to eight hours.
This improvement was also evident in people diagnosed with depression – the most common mental illness worldwide – indicating the potential role of birds in helping people with mental illness.
Posted in scientific reports, the study used the Urban Mind smartphone app to collect people’s real-time reports of their mental well-being alongside their reports of seeing or hearing birdsong.
This project was funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), the Maudsley Center for Biomedical Research and the NIHR South London Applied Research Collaboration.
Lead author Ryan Hammoud, research fellow at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London, said: “There is growing evidence for the mental health benefits of being in nature and we intuitively think that the presence of birdsong and birds would help improve our mood. However, there is little research that has actually examined the impact of birds on mental health in real time and in a real environment. Using the Urban Mind app, we have shown for the first time the direct link between seeing or hearing birds and positive mood. We hope this evidence can demonstrate the importance of protecting and providing a nurturing environment for birds, not only for biodiversity but also for our mental health.”
The survey was conducted between April 2018 and October 2021, with 1,292 participants completing 26,856 assessments using the Urban Mind app, developed by King’s College London, landscape architects J&L Gibbons and arts foundation Nomad Projects.
Participants were recruited from around the world, with the majority based in the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the United States of America.
The app asked participants three times a day whether they could see or hear birds, followed by questions about mental well-being to allow the researchers to establish a relationship between the two and assess how long that relationship lasted.
The study also collected information on existing mental illness diagnoses and found that hearing or seeing birds was associated with improvements in mental well-being in both healthy people and people with depression. The researchers showed that the links between birds and mental well-being were not explained by environmental co-factors such as the presence of trees, plants or waterways.
Senior author Andrea Meccelli, Professor of Early Intervention in Mental Health at the IoPPN, King’s College London, said: “The term ecosystem services is often used to describe the benefits of certain aspects of the natural environment on our physical and mental health. it can be difficult to prove these benefits scientifically. Our study provides an evidence base for creating and maintaining biodiverse spaces where birds are present, as this is closely related to our mental health. In addition, the findings support the implementation of measures to increase opportunities for people to encounter birds, especially for those living with mental illnesses such as depression.”
Research partner and landscape architect Joe Gibbons of J & L Gibbons said: “Who hasn’t tuned into the melodic complexities of the dawn chorus early on a spring morning? A multi-sensory experience that seems to enrich everyday life, regardless of our mood or location. This exciting research supports just how much the sight and sound of birdsong elevates mood. It captures intriguing evidence that biodiverse environments are restorative in terms of mental well-being. That the sensory stimulation of birdsong, part of these daily ‘doses’ of nature, is valuable and enduring.”
This study was funded by the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Center South London and the Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London and the NIHR Applied Research Collaborative South London.
Materials provided by King’s College London. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.