More proof that noise affects children’s cognitive development

Photo credit: Aleksandar Pasaric

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies

“Children who attend schools with more traffic noise show lower cognitive development,” reads the headline of an article reporting on a Barcelona Institute for Global Health study that was published in PLosMedicine. As the researcher who found that children in classrooms exposed to nearby elevated rail noise did more poorly in reading over 45 years ago and who is familiar with other studies that have demonstrated that transportation noises impede learning, this study’s findings were no surprise. Actually, the authors of the study acknowledge that their study adds to the body of evidence on the effect of transport noise on cognitive development.

When it was learned that elevated train noise in New York City lowered the reading scores of children in classrooms adjacent to the tracks, the New York City’s Transit Authority responded by testing out a new procedure to lessen the noise on the rails near the school and the Board of Education acoustically treated the ceilings of classrooms near the track. With the abatements in place, I conducted a second study and found that the children in classrooms near the tracks were now reading at the same level as children on the quiet side. Furthermore, my studies and similar studies were instrumental in having the Federal Aviation Administration spend millions of dollars to abate intrusive aircraft noise at schools throughout the United States. Actions were indeed taken to lessen the impact of transport noises on students’ classroom learning.

With readily available published articles on the harmful effects of transportation noise on school learning as well as articles on how to reduce noise at these schools so that they are less impacted by nearby transportation noise, one would think that Barcelona might have considered reducing noise at schools near busy roads before this study was conducted. Recognizing how well New York City responded to my 1975 study’s findings linking transportation noise to poorer classroom reading scores, one would hope that the public officials of Barcelona will similarly act to reduce noise at the schools near their busy roads.

Furthermore, will other cities in Spain consider noise abatements at schools near roads? I wonder about this because the researchers of the Barcelona study were quoted as stating “the need for further studies on road traffic noise in other populations to determine whether these initial findings can be extrapolated to other cities and settings.” Do we really need further studies before taking appropriate action?

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