In silence and in nature – The effects on psychological well-being

In silence and in nature – The effects on psychological well-being

A study tries to investigate whether a moment of silence in two different conditions, in a natural environment or in a building, can produce different results on relaxation, boredom, perception of self, space and time.


Advertising message Silence and the natural environment are concepts that are still not fully studied in scientific literature (Pfeifer et al., 2020).

In music therapy silence is considered an important aspect for the structure of musical discourse (De Backer, 2008) and can represent not only a defense, a protective shield (Sutton & De Backer, 2009), but also a moment to be exploited on a creative level (Wakao, 2002). Biologically it has been shown that silence is associated with a lowering of diastolic blood pressure and heart rate – as well as cortisol levels (Trappe & Voit, 2016). In addition, a 6:30 minute silence period followed by a quarter of an hour of Depth Relaxation Music Therapy (DRMT) / Hypnomusictherapy (HMT) has a significant effectiveness in promoting relaxation, weakening the perception of space and time and reduce the tendency to direct thinking towards the future (Decker-Voigt, 2007).

These results may also prove useful in the psychopathological field – think of the anxious or depressive symptomatology – due to the beneficial effects that the DRMT / HMT method, combined with silence, has on the relaxation capacity and on the reduction of rumination and brooding ( Pfeifer et al., 2016). However, there seems to be no type of silence by definition (Sutton & De Backer, 2009): on a phenomenological level this can manifest itself in various forms and conditions.

A recent study (Pfeifer et al., 2020) wanted to investigate whether the experience of the same moment of silence in two different conditions – a university classroom and a city park – produced different results on relaxation, boredom, self-perception , of space and time.

Forty-six students of the Catholic University of Applied Sciences in Freiburg have been recruited for this purpose. Participants were divided into two groups and both experienced 6:30-minute silence conditions in reverse order a week apart – always under the instruction of a music therapist. The students – before and after the period of silence – completed the following questionnaires: the Inventory on Subjective Time, Self, Space (STSS, Pfeifer et al., 2016) for the perception of self, time and space; two Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) to measure relaxation and boredom; the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI) (Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999) to measure orientation over time and the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS-11) (Barratt et al., 1999) for the evaluation of impulsivity.

Advertising message The results of the study show that the moment of silence led to an effective increase in relaxation in both conditions; however, in the open air students experienced greater relaxation – as well as lower levels of boredom – compared to the condition of the university classroom. Furthermore, in the condition of outdoor silence, the sense of living in the present moment was greater, while thoughts regarding the past were less, compared to the indoor condition. In the university classroom condition, the more relaxed the students, the less aware they were of the passage of time.

These results confirm that just experiencing a condition of silence already has positive effects on the psychological well-being of the individual, especially if one is surrounded by a natural environment. The results are in line with the scientific literature which emphasizes the relaxing and healthy effects of being surrounded by a natural environment, as well as the experimentation of a lower feeling of boredom (Berger & Lahad, 2013; Berry et al., 2015; Ulrich , 1979). This supports the theory on the possibility of entrusting the natural environment with an active role as a co-therapist – evidently useful within the therapeutic process itself (Pfeifer, 2017).