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School traffic noise slows cognitive development: learning

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A new study has found that traffic noise at school negatively affects working memory and attention of elementary school students.

Researchers in Barcelona Institute of Global Health (ISGlobal) conducted a study in 38 schools in the city of Barcelona, ​​including 2,680 children aged seven to 10. The findings were published in Medicine PLoS.

To assess the potential impact of road noise on cognitive development, researchers Maria Foraster and Jordi Sunier focused on two abilities that develop rapidly in pre-adolescence and are necessary for learning and achievement in school: attention and working memory.

Attention includes processes such as selectively visiting certain stimuli or focusing on a specific task over a long period of time. Working memory is a system that allows people to store information in their minds and manipulate it for a short period of time. When people need to continuously and efficiently process information stored in working memory, they use what is known as complex working memory.

Fieldwork for the study was conducted over 12 months in 2012 and 2013, during which participants underwent four cognitive tests. The purpose of these tests was not only to assess working memory and attention, but also to study their evolution over time. During the same period, noise measurements were conducted in front of 38 participating schools, as well as on playgrounds and inside classrooms.

At the end of the one-year study period, the results showed that the development of working memory, complex working memory and attention was slower in students attending schools with higher noise levels from transport. For example, an increase in external noise levels of 5 dB led to the development of working memory 11.4% slower than average, and the development of complex working memory 23.5% slower than average. Similarly, exposure to an additional 5 dB of external traffic noise led to the development of attention ability, which was 4.8% slower than average.

Differences inside and outside the classroom

When analyzing external noise in schools, higher average noise levels and larger noise level fluctuations were associated with poorer student performance on all tests. Within the class, larger noise level fluctuations were also associated with slow progress over the year on all cognitive tests. However, children who were exposed to higher average noise levels in the classroom during the year performed worse than students in quieter classes, only on the attention test, but not on working memory tests.

“This finding suggests that classroom noise peaks may be more destructive to neurodevelopment than average decibels,” said Foraster, lead author of the study.

“This is important because it confirms the hypothesis that noise characteristics may be more influential than average noise levels, even though current policies are based solely on average decibels.”

“Our study confirms the hypothesis that childhood is a vulnerable period during which external stimuli, such as noise, can affect the rapid process of cognitive development that occurs before adolescence,” said Saner, the study’s latest author.

Exposure to noise at home

The researchers used a 2012 Barcelona road noise map to estimate the average noise level in each participant’s home. In this case, however, no association was observed between residential noise and cognitive development.

“This may be because exposure to noise at school is more harmful as it affects vulnerable concentration windows and learning processes,” Foraster said.

“On the other hand, despite the fact that noise measurements were carried out in schools, the noise level in orphanages was assessed using a noise map, which may be less accurate and, in any case, reflects only external noise. It could also affect the results. “

The study adds a body of evidence to the impact of transport on children’s cognitive development that has been observed to date in schools exposed to aviation noise as well as in schools exposed to air pollution associated with traffic. Researchers stressed the need for further research into traffic noise in other populations to determine whether these initial findings could be extrapolated to other cities and settings.

Image: © stock.adobe.com/au/sabine hürdler

http:///content/futureed/news/school-traffic-noise-slows-cognitive-development-study-80782287

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