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The Penn State Park Studies Unit examines visitor use issues in parks and protected areas using numerous survey techniques. The majority of our research uses quantitative questionnaires to inform management strategies. However, mixed-methods approaches, applying qualitative interviews and quantitative scaled responses are also frequently used.

The Unit has advanced understanding of order effects as they pertain to perceptions of crowding in parks and protected areas, as well as improved understanding of the role of messaging strategies in altering visitor perceptions of soundscape conditions. While evaluative measures such as these are frequently collected with our work, we also use GPS units, as well as trail and traffic counters to collect descriptive information.

The Unit often tests methods in the Penn State Social Science Acoustics Laboratory prior to applying methodological strategies in the field. The laboratory is housed on the basement floor of the Keller Building, and features an approximately 400 square foot, sound insulated laboratory space large enough to accommodate ten participants at one time. Within the Laboratory, the Park Studies Unit works collaboratively with the National Park Service Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division (NSNSD) to advance research that “protect[s], maintain[s], or restore[s] acoustical environments” and increases “scientific understanding and inspire[s] public appreciation of the value and character of soundscapes” (NSNSD Mission).

We also collaborate with others across the Penn State campuses (e.g., Acoustics Engineering Department, Applied Research Laboratory, Psychology Department, and the Department of Biobehavioral Heath) examining topics related to environmental soundscapes. Current laboratory research is examining the role of natural sounds on human health and wellbeing.