According to a new study conducted by researchers in Barcelona, the sound environment of children has an impact on cognitive development, especially at school, where their concentration and memory can be impaired.
Children could be severely impacted by noise pollution, and even more at school. Scientists from the ISGlobal Research Institute in Barcelona conducted a study in around 30 schools in the Catalan capital, including 2,680 schoolchildren aged 7 to 10. The results published on June 2 in the journal Plos Medicine confirmed that traffic noise can negatively affect the cognitive development of children.
For the equivalent of two school years, researchers measured sounds (in decibels) in 38 schools in Barcelona using a sound level meter, in the street of the school, in the courtyard and inside the classrooms. The process was repeated twice a week on school days over a period of 12 months (the equivalent of two school years).
In parallel, they performed cognitive tests on the 2,680 children to measure two key aspects of cognitive development: attention and working memory. “The first refers to the time it takes children to react to a stimulus“, indicates Pr María Foraster, main author of the study, to the daily newspaper El Country.
Do not exceed 53 dB during the day
And the results are striking. After one year, the development of these two cognitive abilities was relatively weaker in children of both sexes enrolled in schools where noise pollution was highest. If the WHO guidelines recommend that “traffic noise levels should not exceed an average of 53 dB during the day“, the rates of decibels sampled in schools were sometimes much higher. On average, the sounds sampled were 63.6 dB in the school street, 53.5 dB in the courtyard and 38.6 dB in the halls. of class.
In schools where noise was 5 dB above average, students’ working memory – or short-term memory – was 11.4% slower than average. At the same noise level, inattention among exposed students was 4% higher. But it was in the complex working memory assignments – where the students were confronted with more information – that the results were most obvious: they were down 23% compared to students less exposed to noise.
Beware of noise peaks
The researchers also compared noise pollution levels in schools with those at home. But there, no link was made with the cognitive development of the child. “This could be because noise exposure at school is more harmful as it affects vulnerable windows for concentration and learning processes.“, continues Professor Foraster.
Another striking fact is that the noise peaks (the passage of a heavy weight, the sound of a horn) could have an even more negative impact than continuous high noise levels. “This finding suggests that noise peaks inside the classroom may be more disruptive to neurodevelopment than the average number of decibels.“, concludes the main author of the study. An indication that must be taken into account by public policies, which today are only based on average decibels.
- Exposure to road traffic noise and cognitive development in schoolchildren in Barcelona, Spain: A population-based cohort study, Plos MedicineJune 2, 2022
- Traffic noise affects children’s cognitive development, study finds, El PaísJune 3, 2022
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