What Is Physiological Noise? Noise batters not only our ears but our minds as well. When it comes to predicting psychological effects,there is an important distinction to be made between sound and noise. When psychologists talk about “noise,” they are referring to sounds that are unpleasant or unwanted. As a result, what is “noise” remains to a certain extent in the ear of the listener. Some people find loud rock music enjoyable (and hardly noisy) and loud opera music annoying (and therefore noisy). Other people have exactly the opposite reaction.
What we perceive as tolerable Sound or intolerable noise depends on our attitudes toward the source of the sound. In one study, people rated automobile sounds as “noisier” if they thought the sounds came from a teenager’s car than if they thought the sounds came from a taxi. An- other study found that people living next door to an Air Force base were less annoyed by aircraft sounds when they were persuaded that the base was a vital part of their community and country. The fact chat sounds can seem louder or noisier to a person who disapproves of them was discussed recently by the United States Supreme Court.
A group called Rock Against Racism was protesting a New York City requirement that a sound technician employed by the city regulate the amplification levels at concerts in Central Park in order to keep the volume under control. The group argued that the city’s sound technician would be in a position to censor their music. Three of the Supreme Court justices agreed, pointing our that a technician might decide that rock music was too “loud” simply because he or she didn’t like the music or assumed people who lived near the Band Shell wouldn’t like it.
Physiological Noise and Psychological Stress.
Unwanted noise, especially if it persists over time, produces stress. The body responds to such noise as it does to any threat, by showing signs of physiological arousal. Research suggests that continued exposure to noise can contribute to heart disease and ulcers.People who live in noisy areas near airports or next to train tracks and inter state highways have been found to have higher blood pressure than those who live in quieter surroundings. And people exposed to high noise levels at work report experiencing greater tension, more conflict with other people at home and On the job.
These studies do not prove that noise is a primary cause of psychological problems. People living in the noisiest neighborhoods and working in the noisiest jobs may also be the most likely to experience other non-noise-related stresses that are linked to a lower standard of living. Yet given the stressful effects of noise, in would not be surprising to find that high noise levels worsen existing emotional problems.
Physiological Noise and Intellectual Abilities.
Noise that continues over a period of years can impair children’s intellectual development. In four New York City apartment buildings spanning a noisy highway, elementary school children who lived on the lower floors (where the noise was loudest) were found to have less ability to discriminate between sounds than did the children who lived on higher floors. Children on the lower floors also had poorer reading skills than those on the higher floors. Glass and Singer suggest that in tuning out a noisy environment, children may fail to make important distinctions among speech-relevant sounds, and this, in turn, may make it harder to learn to read.
Noise and Helping.
The noise level in our environment also affects the way we relate to other people. Various studies have shown that people are less likely to be helpful and friendly to others in noisy places. In one experiment people who were walking down a residential street encountered a confederate of the experimenters who “accidentally” dropped several books. In half of the encounters, a power lawn mower was running at full throttle; in the other half, it was turned off. When the lawn mower was off, half of the passers-by helped pick up the books. When it was going, only one-eighth of the passers-by came to the stranger’s aid. Why should the noise of a lawn mower dampen people’s desire to help? The most plausible explanation seems to be that the noise distracted the attention of the passers-by and thus made them less attentive to the cues indicating that another person needed help.