How Noise Affects Memory and Learning

According to past studies background and low-level noise in homes, work, and school, disrupts concentration and lowers the performance of people while learning and studying. For example, Anderson and Fuller (2010) looked at the effects of music on reading comprehension. Their results state the music environment reading comprehension score was lower than the non-music environment score. Even though this study was done with music, no matter what type of sound it is, it will bother someone’s concentration and performance on a task.
A study has shown having ackground white noise while performing a task, such as word recall, will produce low performance (KJellberg, LJung, ; Hallman, 2008). It also depends on the type of population you are trying to study. For some populations, the predictions of noise being a distraction, is stronger. For example, people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are more vulnerable to distractions than people without ADHD or any other type of disorder (Soderlund, Sikstrom, Loftenes, ; Sonuga-Barke, 2010).
This introduction will further examine the effects of noise on learning and memory. Music and Learning/Memory It has been shown that music has a negative effect on reading performance (Anderson r am ; Vizard, 2011). Anderson and Fuller (201 investigation of the effect of lyrical music on reading comprehension by adolescents. They used the reading comprehensions subtest of the Gates-MacGinitie Reading tests, 4th edition. The music that was used in this study was taken from the Billboard Magazine’s (2006) top hit singles.

Anderson and Fuller (2010) tested three hypotheses; (1) a difference exists between reading comprehension scores completed in the environment without music and scores obtained with lyrical music playing in he background, (2) a gender difference exists regarding comprehension scores completed in the environment without music and scores obtained with background music, and (3) a relationship exists between degree of preference for studying with music and scores obtained on reading comprehension tests completed in either the environment without music or with music playing in the background (Anderson & Fuller, 2010).
The results of this experiment were that across experimental groups of this study, the music environment reading scores were lower in the music group compared to the no music group. About three-quarters of the students who took the test did less well while listening to music in the background. This means hypothesis 1 was accepted in this study. Girls had a greater decline in scores under the music environment compared with the non-music environment than did boys, which means hypothesis 2 was accepted.
Hypothesis 3 was only semi-accepted because the students total music preference score was not related to their reading comprehension score, but the total music preference score was correlated with the reading comprehension difference score (music vs. no music). The students, who were asked if they usually listen to music while studying, and said yes, had a lower reading comprehension score in both noise conditions (Anderson & Fuller, 2010).
Anderson and Fuller (2010) explain that these results happened because students paid more attention to the lyrics depending on if they were listening to the songs and artists they liked or did not like. Perham and Vizard (2011) conducted a study to explore whether the preference of background music influences performance in more realistic cognitive settings, such as doing everyday tasks. According to Perham nd Vizard (2011) research suggests that listening to background music prior to task performance increases cognitive processes, such as attention and memory, through the mechanism of increasing arousal and positive mood.
Their hypothesis was if this mood and arousal extends to more common and realistic music, then the preference for background music while studying should show greater recall performance while listening to liked music than disliked music in the background. If the preference of music shows no effect, then performance should be the same in both liked and disliked music conditions. In this study done by Perham and Vizard (201 1), their procedure was done by selecting music by asking their participants to bring in music they have listened to on a daily basis, and they excluded people who like to listen to thrash metal music.
The results of this test were only correct if an item was recalled in the exact same position in which it was presented, which showed that performance was best in the quiet condition. The liked music condition, in which participants brought in their own music, showed the highest rating for the likeability and pleasantness properties. The quiet condition was less distracting than the other ound conditions. Disliked music, which was the thrash metal, was rated as being more ottensive than the other sound conditions.
Even though the results ot this study showed that the liked music condition was the highest rated condition, performance was actually as poor in this condition as the disliked, thrash metal, condition. This study showed that no matter what type of music you listen to, either liked or disliked, both are evenly disruptive. Memory and learning in regular white noise The influence of distracting noise has been studied in children with attention deficit disorder. A study done by Soderlund, et al. 2010), predicted that inattentive children would be enhanced by adding background white noise while attentive children’s performance would decline.
There were two noise conditions used during this study, which was a high noise condition, and a low noise condition. In the high noise condition, verb-noun sentences were given during the auditory background noise (78 decibels). In the low noise condition, sentences were presented without noise. The results showed that both groups performed at the same level across both sound conditions, but the interaction between noise and the two groups was ignificant. Inattentive children performed better in the high noise condition rather than the low noise condition, but the opposite happened with the attentive children.
This study also had to do with reading comprehension. Before the study had started, the inattentive and attentive children were tested for their reading level scores, and the inattentive children had a much lower reading level compared to the attentive children. With these results, there was a negative correlation between reading skills and a positive effect of these scores with the noise in the background, a positive orrelation between attention and reading ability, and a positive correlation between teacher ratings of the children being inattentive and their hyperactivity.
This study showed that there was a significant improvement in performance for the children rated by their teachers as inattentive, and a decline in performance for those rated as attentive as noise levels were increased. KJellberg, et al. (2008) studied the effect of white noise on word recall. They predicted that (1) recall of words is better without background noise, (2) recognition of sentences is less sensitive to the noise han the recall of words, but background noise prolongs response times, and (3) the expected noise effect on recall and recognition will be weaker for subjects with high working memory capacity.
There was a free recall of long word lists that was performed with and without background noise. Working memory capacity was tested with a test of reading p. A third test was done with sentence recognition in the same conditions done in the word recall test. This sentence recognition test was less of a resource for results, but was included for the measurement of response times in both noise conditions. For the results of this study, the word lists were split up into three parts (first, 10, middle 30, last 10).
The reason for splitting up the second, third, and fourth groups of 10 words was that in these groups, many subjects did not recall any item correctly. In line with the hypotheses, subjects remembered less of the words when presented with background noise. Recognition of sentences was found to be unaffected by the noise, and the performance of this task was unrelated to reading p. The hypothesis was confirmed regarding performance of the word recall task, but not for the sentence recognition task.
The effects of noise were apparent on the recall of the first and last part of the word list, which shows that retrieval from a short term and long memory storage were both impaired by noise. The hypothesis stating that noise ettects were expected to be less sever tor persons with a better working memory capacity as defined by their reading performance was strongly supported from the noise effect on the recall of the last part of the word list. The hypothesis that word recall was rated as more difficult than sentence recognition in the noise condition was also accepted.
For the last of the results for this study, here was a shorter response time with noise in the sentence recognition task. There were more misses with the shorter response time. This does not confirm the hypothesis that decisions should take longer in the noise condition, and there is no obvious explanation for this result. How memory is affected by road traffic noise and meaningful irrelevant speech. The influence of road traffic noise and meaningful irrelevant speech was studied by Boman (2004), Enmarker (2004), and Hygge, Boman, and Enmarker (2003).
Boman (2004) predicted that the encoding of new verbal episodic information should be mpaired by both road traffic noise and meaningful irrelevant speech, but the impairment for the encoding will be stronger for the meaningful irrelevant speech, and the impairment will be more for the recall than the recognition of a text in episodic memory. It was expected that both recall and recognition in a text reading task when exposed to noise during the encoding part would be impaired by noise sources, but the cued recall and meaningful irrelevant speech would be more pronounced.
Performance on free and cued recall from the sentences encoded with and without enactment (such as “roll the ball” or “kick the ball) would be impaired by oise, but the self-performed enactments will produce a better memory performance, and will withstand both noise conditions. It was expected that intentional memory, and recognition of given names, would be impaired by noise. Like the rest of the predictions for this study, irrelevant speech would be more of an impairment than the road traffic noise.
For recognition from non-verbal material (faces) no noise effects were expected because the face recognition test could be assumed to provide enough cues for memory retrieval. An interaction between noise and gender was expected, while girls performance on free and cued recall from the pisodic memory tasks would not be affected as bad as boys during noise exposure. To examine the predicted role of attention on episodic memory, attention was measured by a search and memory task.
A speech accuracy trade off (SATO) – which is we prefer accuracy over the speed of getting something done – was expected with more lines of the tasks completed in noise, but at a lower accuracy. Boman (2004) split up the results section into five parts. In all of these analyses, the direct effects of noise, gender, and the interactions between noise and gender were all assessed. Episodic memory was assessed first. For cued recall and recognition of text, meaningful irrelevant speech impaired cued recall as expected, but there was no effect of gender or an interaction between gender and noise found for cued recall.
In line with the predictions, the analysis for the recognition items also showed a main effect of noise. There was a better recognition in silence than irrelevant speech, but there was no difference between silence and road traffic noise. For free and cued recall of sentences, neither the effect of noise nor the interaction between noise and gender was significant. As predicted, girls’ recall performance was igher than the boys in cued recall or categories with enactment. Semantic memory was analyzed second. For word tluency, there was no significant noise ettect or interaction between noise and gender.
For word comprehension, there was better word comprehension in silence than in meaningful irrelevant speech. Attention was analyzed next, and this was not impaired by noise, and since this happened, the predicted role for attention on episodic memory can be ruled out. Self-ratings were analyzed last. For affect, there was no significant difference between the three noise groups on the affect dimensions measured before both noise exposures. Meaningful irrelevant speech and road traffic noise did not differ from the silence condition.
For annoyance, effort, and difficulty, there were no significant effects of noise on self reports and the difficulty of reading. Since this happened, the distraction on the text reading tasks in silence and noise can be ruled out as an explanation of the noise effects of recall and recognition. Enmarker (2004) examined how irrelevant speech and road traffic noise affected teacher’s memory and attention, and also examined whether the noise effects on memory were age dependent. Ninety-six male and female teachers were chosen to articipate and were between the ages of 35-45 and 55-65.
It was predicted that (1) of noise effects on episodic memory – noise would interfere with verbal episodic memory tasks, and impair free and cued recall and recognition, but the recall was supposed to be impaired more than recognition tasks, (2) like Boman (2004), most of the episodic memory tasks, the meaningful irrelevant speech will impair the tasks more than the road traffic noise, (3) the older teachers should be less able than the younger teachers to accurately recall, both free and cued, tasks in the noise ondition, (4) of noise effects on semantic memory – less attention requirements are needed during retrieval than during encoding.
More automatic than controlled retrieval is present in more semantic memory, and this study was not sure whether noise would affect the semantic memory system, and (5) of noise affects on attention – noise would impair attention as the result of fewer resources available for the task. There will be a fast performance for answers, but most of these answers will not be accurate. For the results of this study by Enmarker (2004), younger teachers overall ad a better hearing status than the older teachers.
Noise impaired cued recall of the text in episodic memory, but the impact of irrevlevant speech and road traffic noise did not differ. There was no difference between the younger and older teachers performance during noise impairment. There was no significant difference of effort made during text reading for subjects in silence and irrelevant speech, and also the perception of difficulty to the text. The recall of sentences with and without enactment showed no overall noise effects and no interaction between noise and age.
The tasks for intentional and incidental learning and first and family names showed an overall effect of noise. Incidental learning did not show any noise effects. Intentional learning did not show any influences of noise either. There was an overall effect of noise on the three word fluency tests in semantic memory. More words were recalled in silence than in irrelevant speech. The predicted speech to accuracy effect was not supported, and neither was there any interaction between noise and age on attention. The studies done by Boman (2004) and Enmarker (2004) were replications of Hygee et al. 2003). All predictions, basic designs, procedure, and noise controls have been replicated. A types ot episodic and semantic memory tasks are also replicated. A results have been shown to be the same across all three studies. How learning and memory are affected by aircraft noise Hygge, Evans, and Bullinger (2002) studied the effects of aircraft noise on cognitive performance. Before the opening of the new Munich, Germany airport and the destruction of the old one, children near both of these airport sites were brought in to be tested.
Two groups of children, an airport noise group, and a control group – no ircraft noise – were examined. In this study, 326 children participated; 43 children who were by the old airport, were put into a no-noise group; 65 children who were by the old airport, were put into a noise group; 107 who are by the new airport, were put into a no noise group; and 111 who are by the new airport, were put into a noise group. This study assessed how children’s reading was affected by changes in ambient noise levels cause by the new airport and old airport locations.
On the word- list part of the reading test, only difficult words showed differences between the groups. The airport group and the high noise exposure were significant. Reading and long term memory affects were related, but disappeared when the old airport closed, and the new airport opened. Although children’s reading worsened with noise exposure at the new airport and recovered following lower noise exposure at the old airport, speech perception deficits among noise exposed children at the old airport did not recover.
Performing the task in acute noise or no noise did not qualify for the interaction involving chronic aircraft noise over time, but there was a main effect of acute noise. The last was that poorer short term memory performance of the noise group recovered to reach the level of the control group’s performance. Separate tests showed more correct responses in the no-noise group than in the noise group. For the conclusion of this study done by Hygge, et al. (2002) it states that noise exposure damages the development of speech perception in different ways during the early and late stages of the reading comprehension tasks.
This study also raises a question about the validity of inattention or “tuning out” different noises as an explanation for the impact of noise on reading performance. How visual memory is affected during white noise A study was done by Wais and Gazzaley (2011) about the impact of auditory distraction on retrieval of visual memories. The goal of this study was to examine the effect of sound distraction on retrieval of episodic memory. Based on prior research, Wais and Gazzaley stated that there is a possibility that the environment changes may interfere with the recollection of visual memories.
This study hypothesized that a comparison of effects of distraction from different sensory systems might slow down evidence for or against interference on recollection. This experiment studied the influence of sound distractions on episodic memory recollections using both busy caf© sounds and white noise. There were a few different results found in this study. With auditory distractions and false alarms, there was a greater amount of false recollection during silence compared to both the white noise and the auditory distraction of a busy caf©.
Relevant visual details during the test with the busy caf© noise showed significant decline compared to white noise and silence. There was no difference between white noise and silence. These results show that auditory istraction (busy caf© noise) showed more of a distraction than white noise. It might be possible that the results ot talse alarms are greater in silence because the participants are more relaxed during this time period and might loosen their decisions. There was also a task done with visual distractions.
In this experiment, the conditions corresponding to the silence, white noise, and the auditory, busy caf©, distraction conditions in the present study were the eyes shut, eyes open with a grey screen, and eyes open with a complex natural scene. One distracting complex natural scene was presented at each trial. Stimulation during the auditory, busy caf©, distraction is more dynamic than that from the eyes open-grey screen images (Wais & Gazzaley, 2011). The results of the visual distraction showed that recollection of relevant visual details during the auditory distraction showed low accuracy compared to silence and white noise conditions.
In comparison with these studies, the present study is going to be studying how auditory distractions affect memory. The test that was presented to our participants was the digit p test and a reading comprehension test. The digit p test is used to measure working memorys umber storage capacity (Cambridge Brain Science). The participants were presented with a series of numbers (e. g. 6, 7, 9) and must repeat them back immediately, and if they do this accurately, they will be given a longer list of numbers (e. g. 6, 4, 8, 9) Oahanshahi, Saleem, Ho, Fuller, & Dirnberger, G. 2009). Both the reading comprehension test and the digit p test was presented in three different noise conditions, (1) obnoxious noise, (i. e. Jackhammer) (2) calming noise (i. e. bird chirping), and (3) no noise/regular classroom noise, such as students in the hallways, or onstruction outside the windows. A question that is being asked is how do different noise conditions affect memory for both these tasks? It was hypothesized that participants in the no noise/regular classroom noise will perform better than in the two noise conditions.
Method Participants Data was collected from participants who signed up for Experimental Psychology experiments, which helped with the random sampling of the students. Seventy-one students participated in the study (57 females and 13 males) ranging from ages 18 to 24. Twenty-two subjects were in the no sound condition, twenty in the calming noise i. e. bird chirping) condition, and twenty-nine in the obnoxious noise (i. e. Jack hammer) condition. All participants gave informed consent before participating in the experiment. Only one participant reported having a hearing problem.
Materials Questionnaire. A self-made questionnaire was given to each student during the experiment. This questionnaire consisted of (1) age, (2) gender (a) female or (b) male, (3) what is your current academic standing? (a) Freshman, (b) Sophomore, (c) Junior, or (d) Senior; (4) Overall GPA; (5) Do you currently wear glasses or contacts? (a) yes, or (b) o; (6) Are you hearing impaired? (a) Yes, or (b) no; (7) How do you study? (Choose all that apply) (a) silence, (b) with television, (c) with music, (d) with friends, (e) other (8) Please rate how stressed you feel when you study? (a) no stress, (b) okay, (c) great, (d) stressed, or (e) very stressed; (9) Do you better under your course material when: (a) a professor lectures (b) when you read your textbook/notes on your own, or (c) both. Reading Comprehension test. An 8th grade reading comprehension test was presented to the participants. The test was chosen from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test which was tound online (Florida Department ot Education). T story is called “The Wreck of E. S. Newman” by Ruth Ewers. The story also had questions that were answered by the participants.
This passage also came with the answers to these questions. Participants must pay close attention to the story because once the story is taken away from them, they were no longer able to go back and look at it. Digit Span Test. The Digit Span test was originally a subtest of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Test (WA’S) (Cambridge Brain Science). David Wechsler used the digit p test to test the participants working memory. Analysis of the digit p test suggests that participants must hold the first few items presented in memory. According to Jahanshahi, et al. 2008) the digit p test monitors incoming information, and revises updated information by changing the new items. The Digit Span test can be presented verbally, or on a computer program. In the present study, the Digit Span test was pre-recorded so that the variable was held constant and the participants will have no problem understanding what we say. Participants were presented with a string of random numbers and were asked to repeat the string of umbers forward. This means if the numbers are presented as 6-1-2, they must write those numbers down in that particular order.
Participants may find themselves rehearsing the string of digits as they hear them being presented from recording. The Digit Span is scored 2, 1, or O; 2 points if the participant passes both trials, 1 point if the participant passes only one trial and O points if the participant fails both trials. Even though there are two trials, we only used one trial for this experiment and was scored using 1 point. PANAS scale. The Positive and Negative Affect schedule is a 0-item self-report measure of positive and negative affect developed by Watson, Clark, and Tellegen (1988).
The negative scale has three subscales (1) distress, (2) unpleasureable engagement, and (3) the absence of feelings. Positive affect represents an individual with high pleasurable experiences and engagement with the environment. Emotions of happiness and alertness are indicated with the positive affect of the PANAS, and emotions of sadness and lethargy are indicated with the negative affect (Crawford & Henry, 2004). The participants were asked to read each item and list the number from the scale next to each word. This indicated the way a person feels at the present moment.
The rating scale is (1) very slightly or not at all, (2) a little, (3) moderately, (4) quite a bit, and (5) extremely. The 20 words that will be presented on the PANAS scale are (1) interested, (2) distressed, (3) excited, (4) upset, (5) strong, (6) guilty, (7) scared, (8) hostile, (9) enthusiastic, (10) proud, (11) irritable, (12) alert, (13) ashamed, (14) inspired, (15) nervous, (16) determined, (17) attentive, (18) Jittery, (19) active, and (20) afraid. Recordings. The recordings that were used during the experiment are Jackhammers and birds chirping.
These sounds ame from www. sounddogs. com and were played from a CD through the computer system from the classroom that was used to perform the experiment. The exact name for the Jackhammer sound from the website is called “Tools – Jackhammer – Ext – MCIJ – Jackhammering Concrete Long Stand. ” The exact name for the bird chirping sound from the website is called “Birds – Morning – Suburban Neighborhood Morning Birds – Ext – Distant – 6:30am – Various Pretty Birds Sing ; Chirp. ” Procedure The experiment was conducted in a St. Francis College classroom.
Since some classrooms nave ditterent color walls, we decided to use a classroom witn white olored walls on all sides. The participants came in and sat down anywhere they want in the classroom, and each participant was given an informed consent. The informed consent explained the basics of our experiment, how long the experiment will take, they may quit at any time, and that they will be anonymous throughout the experiment. After all participants handed in their informed consent, the experiment will start. The digit p test was given out first.
As said as before, each string of numbers will be pre-recorded so there are no confounding variables. After one set of umbers is said, each participant will have to memorize that set and write it down. The string of numbers was longer each time they are presented. The reading comprehension paragraph was given next. Each participant was given the paragraph of our choice and was required to remember as much as possible from reading this paragraph. The reading comprehension paragraph was then taken away and the questionnaire was given in between the reading paragraph and the reading comprehension quiz.
This is because we are studying memory and we want to see how much they remember after five minutes. After they have finished with the questionnaire, they were given a sheet with a few questions on it asking them about the paragraph they have Just read. During the digit p test, and the reading comprehension paragraph, each group had noise playing in the background. There were three noise conditions. In the first condition, the obnoxious noise (i. e. jackhammer) was presented, during the second condition, the calming noise (i. e. birds chirping) was presented, and in our last condition, there was no noise presented.
The PANAS scale was presented after the experiment was finished to see f the background noise had any effect on the participant during the experiment. After the PANAS a manipulation check was asked to see if the independent variable has had any effect on the participants, and the debriefing about the experiment was presented last. This experiment had two risks which are (1) they might have frustration during each task because of the noise in the background, and (2) because of this frustration they might receive a headache because they could not concentrate well.
A benefit the participant will receive is that they may learn their own individual apabilities in learning and memory related to noise. Results The present study hypothesized that participants in the no noise/regular classroom condition will perform better than in the two noise conditions (i. e. calming and obnoxious conditions.

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