‘A kind of meditative peace.’

Newly published research in Australia (in The Conversation 10 November 2022) explores how ‘quiet hours’ in supermarkets, when noise from many sources, from piped music to handryers, and other sensory overloads such as flickering lights are turned off, affected people. It looked especially at people who are ‘neurodivergent’, a term which covers people with autism and ADHD, but the findings apply to others too.

‘The idea behind “quiet hour” shopping is to set aside a time each week for a retail experience that minimises noise and other sources of sensory overload…What began as a boutique or specialist retail strategy has become more mainstream. Major supermarket chains and shopping centres in Australia and overseas have introduced it in recent years. In newly published research we explored quiet hour as an aspect of the impacts of sound on how people experience city life. As expected, we found it did benefit people who are neurodivergent. But other people also welcomed the relief from sensory overload once they’d overcome the feeling of having wandered into an eerily quiet “post-apocalyptic scene”. 

Our work has made us question the acceptance of urban noise and light as being part and parcel of a vibrant city. Take the case of New Zealand actress and author Michelle Langstone. She reports visiting stores across Auckland and Rotorua that offer quiet-hour shopping. She stumbled upon it by “sheer luck”. At first, she admits, it felt “a bit like a post-apocalyptic scene”. Once she adjusted to the unfamiliar sensory environment, she felt herself succumbing to changed supermarket routines. Langstone also reports avoiding impulse buying. That first time she left with “only [the] bread and eggs” she had gone to the shop for. She was able to focus on shopping rather than “multi-tasking”, and quiet hour left her with a “feeling of goodwill towards all shoppers… I cruised every single [aisle], taking in the quiet for nearly 45 minutes, at the end of which I felt a kind of meditative peace come over me.”

Source: Sage Journals, October 26, 2022 ‘The sonic framing of place: Microsociology, urban atmospheres and quiet hour shopping’ by Eduardo de la Fuente and Michael James Walsh. Available on-line, paywall.