Sounds Relaxing—Looks Cool: Audio and Visual Selections for Computer Systems that Support Wellness

Sounds Relaxing—Looks Cool: Audio and Visual Selections for Computer Systems that Support Wellness

Stuart Cunningham (Glyndwr University, UK) and Rich Picking (Glyndwr University, UK)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/jaci.2012010104
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This paper considers the design of audio and visual user interface elements for pervasive computer systems that aim to support wellness, specifically for promoting calm, relaxation and for the relief of emotional stress. The methodology included conducting a survey of people’s favourite everyday sounds, as well as those they found the most annoying. The authors then took the most popular of these and correlated them with colours that people associated with those sounds. An adapted repertory grid approach was used for this exercise. The results suggest there is potential for a classification of sound and emotion on a shared scale based on the colour spectrum.
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1. Introduction

Wellness is a broad term which covers a range of human conditions, including physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual and social needs. Perhaps the most accepted definition is provided by Corbin and Pangrazi (2001).

“Wellness is a multidimensional state of being describing the existence of positive health in an individual as exemplified by quality of life and a sense of well-being.”

The advent of computer-based technologies that we increasingly rely on to live out our everyday lives raises the question of how we can best design, evaluate and utilize those technologies to improve wellness. Such technologies now pervade our society, and they are more mobile and more powerful than ever, supporting high resolution displays and multimedia interaction - but all this comes with inherent dangers. We can design badly, we can overwhelm users with features, and we can be seduced by the technology to the detriment of the user experience.

One such area of concern, and which is the focus of this paper, is to consider the best use of colour and sound in computer applications in the context of wellness. The consequences of bad design are obvious, and these can be exacerbated if a wellness application actually results in having a detrimental effect.

We now describe the background to our work, and then present a study that we have carried out that explores the relationship between perceived sound and colour, with a view to classifying them on a shared scale.


2. Background

A. Sound and Colour as Therapy

It is generally accepted that people do associate both colour and sound with mood. For example, blue is often conceived to be a cool, relaxing colour, and the sound of waves gently lapping on the seashore generally has a similar effect. Some individuals (thought to be around 1%) exhibit a congenital, physical extreme of this phenomenon, known as synaesthesia.

People with synaesthesia experience responses in one or more of their senses when an alternative sensory pathway is stimulated. For example, some people with synaesthesia associate each letter of the alphabet with the visualization of a particular colour. Of particular interest in this work is that of sound-to-colour synaesthesia. Here, the presentation of a sound or music stimulus elicits association with colours and/or shapes (Cytowic & Eagelman, 2009; Mills, Boteler, & Larcombe, 2003).

Goller et al. (2009) conducted a set of controlled experiments to determine the linkage between sound and visual senses that occur in synaesthetes and found that the condition can be effectively recognized and is distinct from other forms of visualization that the brain can undertake. Their research also found that the link between colour and sound is a two-way affair and that presentation of colours as primary stimuli can trigger sonic stimulation in synaesthetes.

Synaesthesia should not be confused with the semantics used by listeners to describe the timbre of a sound, such as a sound being explained by a listener as being “harsh”, “soft”, “tinny”, etc. Research has shown that these timbral constructs are shared across groups of synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes (Ward, Huckstep, & Tsakanikos, 2006).

The use of sound and music in clinical and non-clinical healthcare settings is well established. Most recently, work in the area has focused upon using sound as a tool for relaxation and therapeutic purposes. Whilst synaesthetes may gain more intense, multi-sensory experiences from such interventions, non-synaesthetes can also benefit from improving their well-being by using sound and music (Chen, Bongers, & Iedema, 2009; Fukumoto, Hasegawa, Hazama, & Nagashima, 2009; Filimon, 2010). In particular, the role of sound in therapy has been shown to have application over a wide range of age groups, from children to the elderly (Benveniste, Jouvelot, Lecourt, & Michel, 2009; Ellis & Leeuwen, 2019).

Music therapy is a popular area and the utilization of computer software and hardware as an interactive tool has supported growth in this field. Interfaces for music therapy must be carefully designed to ensure they provide an intuitive method of controlling the various audio characteristics (Hunt, Kirk, & Neighbour, 2004). Usage is more prevalent as an alternative or complementary method of therapy (Fukumoto, Hasegawa, Hazama, & Nagashima, 2009; Filimon, 2010). However, there are also instances of use to be found in more formal healthcare environments (Chen, Bongers, & Iedema, 2009).

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