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

Over forty years ago, I conducted two studies on the impact of noise on children’s learning. In the first study, it was found that sixth grade students in classrooms exposed to passing, elevated train noise were about a year behind in reading when compared to children in quieter classrooms on the other side of the building who were not exposed to train noise.  The Metropolitan Transit Authority then implemented a procedure that lessened the train noise and the Board of Education installed noise abatement ceilings in the classrooms exposed to the transit noise. With these two noise abatement procedures in place, the classrooms were quieter and the children on the side of the building exposed to the tracks were now reading at the same level as the children on the quieter side.

I and other researchers have long known that noise can impede learning. In fact, my first study references earlier studies that found noise adversely affected children’s learning. Later studies on noise and its impact on learning have been conducted and have supported the findings of the earlier research. So I was delighted to read that all these years later, more research conducted in a laboratory confirmed previous research that noise intrudes upon cognitive performance.  

Lindsey Ellefson’s article in lifehacker references a 2019 study that looked into how noise affects people’s ability to work. She also references the Center for Hearing and Communication in her article. CHC provides its readers with a wealth of information about the impacts of noise on learning. It should be pointed out that it established International Noise Awareness Day with April 24, 2024 celebrating the 29th anniversary of INAD. I urge readers to learn more about CHC and its activities.  

Ellefson’s article goes on to suggest ways individuals can make their learning environment quieter, like keeping surrounding music low, using of ear plugs or studying in a room with a door that can block out noise. I would add that making learning environments quieter for those who need to study and learn is not sufficient. Thought should be given to sources of outside noise that intrude on studying and learning and consideration should be given to what can actually reduce these noises.

For example, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Board of Education responded quickly and lessened the noise in classrooms when research showed it impaired children’s ability to learn. The Federal Aviation Administration spent several hundred million dollars to treat schools acoustically that were impacted by aircraft noise. Similarly, construction sites near homes and schools must set up barriers so that noise they create does not disturb studying and learning.

Ellefson’s article reminded us of how harmful noise is to our cognitive abilities.  Don’t forget that noise is also harmful to our overall mental and physical well-being.  

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