Noise Can Effect More Than Just Hearing

Noise may have more negative effects on society than just hearing loss. Studies have suggested that increased noise levels in our country could also lead to impaired health, reduced learning, and antisocial behavior. At least, this is what research from the 1970s and early 1980s concluded. Since 1982, most of the federal research and federal aid to state governments to conduct research on the effects of noise have been terminated.

To give more detail on some of this earlier research (because it is pretty interesting)… many studies have suggested that noise can cause high blood pressure. One study showed that factory workers exposed regularly to noise between 85 and 115 decibels had an increased likelihood of suffering from hypertension and peptic ulcers. Another study found that of the children living in a particularly noisy housing complex (near a bridge in Manhattan) those living on the lower, noisier floors did not read as well as those on the upper floors. Still other studies have shown that noise impacts behavior. People walking past a person who had dropped his or her books were less likely to help if their was a lawnmower going in the background, and subjects in a lab experiment were likely to push a button that they believed was shocking the experimenter longer and more frequently if loud noise was present in the room.

So what does this have to do with our classrooms? In 1990, audiologists were claiming that “America is noisier than ever” which means that now, given the advent of iPods and ever worsening traffic in urban areas, noise levels are surely even higher. Our students are subjecting themselves purposefully and unintentionally to noise at levels that are undoubtedly higher than the recommended decibel level for long periods of time… and their behavior/skills are consistent with the results of the studies. They are aggressive, they have low reading levels, and, now that I think about it, perhaps some of the reason why they don’t respond to me when I speak to them is because already, they have damaged their hearing. As teachers, we should create quiet, calm spaces for our students to work. We should be aware of what acceptable decibel levels are and inform our students of the negative effects of being exposed to too much noise. If the threat of hearing loss isn’t enough, perhaps if we add these other effects into the argument, they will start hearing us.

Noise above 80 decibels is considered loud enough to cause hearing loss. The following link provides a table of decibel levels of several common noises. Share it with your students.

Contributed by: Mike Lederman

Browne, Malcolm W. (March 6, 1990). “Research on Noise Disappears In the Din”