A calming cacophony: social identity can shape the experience of loud noise

S. Shankar, C. Stevenson, K. Pandey, S. Tewari, N. P. Hopkins, S. D. Reicher

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    38 Citations (Scopus)


    Environmental Psychology has typically considered noise as pollution and focused upon its negative impact. However, recent research in psychology and anthropology indicates the experience of noise as aversive depends upon the meanings with which it is attributed. Moreover, such meanings seem to be dependent on the social context. Here we extend this research through studying the aural experience of a religious festival in North India which is characterised by loud, continuous and cacophonous noise. Reporting an experiment and semi-structured interviews, we show that loud noise is experienced as pleasant or unpleasant according to the meanings attributed to it. Specifically, the experiment shows the same noise is experienced more positively (and listened to longer) when attributed to the festival rather than to a non-festival source. In turn, the qualitative data show that within the Mela, noises judged as having a religious quality are reported as more positive than noises that are not. Moreover, the qualitative data suggest a key factor in the evaluation of noise is our participants' social identities as pilgrims. This identity provides a framework for interpreting the auditory environment and noises judged as intruding into their religious experience were judged negatively, whereas noises judged as contributing to their religious experience were judged more positively. Our findings therefore point to the ways in which our social identities are implicated in the process of attributing meaning to the auditory environment.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)87-95
    Number of pages9
    JournalJournal of Environmental Psychology
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


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