Even slight traffic noise impacts work performance

Photo credit: Francesco Ungaro

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Earth.com reports that even slight traffic noise impacts work performance. That’s probably an overstatement —  the study reported on by staff writer Andrei Ionesco did not actually measure work performance. The study, done at Chalmers University in Sweden, measured the impact of low levels of background noise on cognitive impairment.
As Ionesco writes, “The experts conducted a laboratory experiment in which participants took concentration tests while being exposed to background traffic noise, consisting of two audio sequences simulating trucks passing at a distance of 10 and 50 meters. More specifically, they had to look at a computer screen and react to certain letters, and assess their perceived workload afterward. The results showed that participants had significantly poorer results on the test, and felt that the task was more difficult to carry out, with traffic noise in the background.”
“What is unique about our study is that we were able to demonstrate a decline in performance at noise levels as low as 40 decibels, which corresponds to the regular noise level in an office environment or a kitchen,” said lead author Leon Müller, a doctoral student in Applied Acoustic at Chalmers.
These findings are consistent with other reports of noise interfering with learning and job performance. I hope the Chalmers group will go on to measure office noise levels and actual productivity in quieter versus noisier office settings, to demonstrate that noise actually has an impact on productivity.
Perhaps that information will help push architects and interior designers to design quieter buildings and offices, and government authorities to set standards for vehicle design, street and highway design, tire composition and roadway surface material — all known to reduce levels of road traffic noise. Perhaps more importantly, these entities will enforce existing standards for vehicle exhaust noise.

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