The Non-Auditory Effects of Noise on Human Health

Loud Noise Pollution

Unwanted sounds or noise is an environmental nuisance and stressor. Today, it’s almost impossible to find a place of complete peace and quiet. Unlike in cities, where the noise comes from traffic, building work and aircraft routes, there is less noise in the countryside. However, even there we can’t escape the buzz of modern home appliances. These noises are annoying, and the evidence on the negative effects of long-term noise exposure seems to be increasing.

Besides auditory effects, exposure to noise can cause effects on human well-being that have nothing to do with the effects on the hearing apparatus. Those problems are called non-auditory, and can be mental, physical, and may even disrupt children’s learning. Noise may influence health indirectly (through annoyance that leads to stress responses) or directly, and the response to it may depend on the sound’s frequency, intensity, duration, and complexity.

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1. Noise and Cognitive Performance

According to a 2015 study conducted by the Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care (University of Bergen), noise exposure contributes to the impairment of cognitive performance in environmental, occupational, and experimental settings. Also, in relation to learning, performance is impaired if speech sounds are played while a subject reads verbal material (non-speech noises, however, don’t produce the same effect). Exposure to noise may influence processes of selectivity in memory, choice of strategies for performing tasks, and slow rehearsal in memory. By soundproofing or using barriers, one can mask or screen the noise at source, and significantly reduce it.

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