What is it about the sound of running water that soothes the brain and the soul?

This is what I found on the internet:

Our species evolved where trees met savannahs and where freshwater sources were present. Our brains are deeply encoded with the love of water – we revel in the delicious feel and noise of burbling brooks…

and

I personal think we LOVE the sounds of running water because inside the womb of our mothers, that's what we hear...along with the sounds of her beating heart. I was told that we hear the blood running through her veins in utero.

  • 2
    A researcher at out institute studying the effects of mindfulness mediation said that rain and other natural water sounds had strong alpha waves, inducing alpha wave activity in the human brain (which are correlated to relaxed, meditative states). I have no published source for this, but maybe you can find something with this hint. – user3116 Mar 14 '14 at 15:11
  • I think something to consider on top of the other answers is association with being in utero. I think that being immersed in liquid while your brain and senses are just developing as a fetus must have some effect on you. I have no evidence to back this up, but it's a theory, and hopefully someone else can elaborate on this further. – DanTheMan Oct 19 '15 at 17:27
  • 1
    Could you please add links to those quotes? Who are you quoting from what context? – Steven Jeuris Oct 20 '15 at 11:14
  • The sound of a waterfall falls in the category of Red noise, where the power of the sound with frequency falls with increasing frequency as $ \frac{1}{f^2} $. If the power increases with increasing frequency, it is called blue noise. You can read more of it here: driftspeed.wordpress.com/2016/07/20/on-the-colors-of-noise – Harshfi6 Aug 20 '16 at 8:11
  • My answer is a practical experience. I came across a video yesternight - youtube.com/watch?v=NlIcKqbYRmk - and meditated on it. I feel that running water is directly related to our body composition which is majority water. The running water sound activates the vessel of our body water and blood and makes rise our Prana energy, our life force from all parts of the body, from our feet to upwards and upwards in a regular flow towards our Sahastrar, the Crown Chakra. .....and any process or sound which takes us and helps us reside at our Crown Chakra gives a Divine and surely a soothin – user17799 Dec 11 '17 at 3:12

There cannot be a single answer to this question which would be entirely correct. Different theoretical approaches to psychology will yield different explanations. This is evident from the other answers in this question (some which you provided) which all stem from different theoretical accounts:

  • Evolutionary Psychology: Species evolving around water
  • Developmental Psychology: Prenatal development in womb
  • Sensory and Perception Psychology: White noise account
  • Behaviorism, specifically Classical Conditioning: We develop a learnt association between the sound of water and relaxation.
  • A prediction based on a cognitive science approach is less clear in my opinion. It would likely stem from a combination of sensory arguments (white noise) and from neural networks of association.

Why do we see so many different accounts for the same phenomena? Firstly, it is difficult to produce a falsifiable explanation for why such a perverse qualitative effect exists. In order for any given explanation to be scientifically valid, it has to be able to be tested. The explanations provided so far do not generate meaningful hypotheses which we can test using experimental studies. Therefore, it is difficult to form a single model accounting for why we find water sounds relaxing. Consequently, we see a range of explanations with little evidence for any of them (they are all just untested just-so stories). Note, even some of the better responses, such as this one (linked above), do not provide falsifiable or testable answers.

A second reason we see such variation could be that there is no simple answer. The "true" answer probably will draw upon a wide range of reasons for this phenomena. In this way, perhaps the best explanation at this point is that there are a variety of reasons why certain individuals find water sounds relaxing (those aforementioned). Although perhaps not the most satisfying conclusion - it is likely the most accurate.

It may have something to do with the manner in which the water flows. Disturbed or moving water has a frequency content/distribution that approaches noise (think ocean waves lapping up against the the shoreline/beach, which is close to white noise).

Our hearing system tends to tune out when presented with white noise, mainly due to there being no discernible pattern in the sound for the hearing system to focus on. The mind then starts to drift (excuse the pun) ...

I think the answer to this is on a question I did some time ago: Why does being in a natural environment induce some kind of "peace" state while mecha/tech ones induce the opposite?

We feel relaxed when listening to the sound of water, because we associate the sound to something like a beautiful waterfall, and to waterfalls/nature, the majority of us will associate peace, water has always been good to us, drinking water for example. Another example of "the things we use to consider good are the things that make us feel good" is the sound of birds telling there is no danger around, as Randy mentions in his answer to that question.

protected by AliceD Dec 11 '17 at 6:33

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.