Traffic noise affects the cognitive development of children, and we know this thanks to the schools in Barcelona

at the time of choose a school for our childrenthe environment and environmental noise is something that we should take into account, since it influences the learning and development of children.

This is confirmed by a new investigation, led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and published in the magazine PLoS Medicine, what has studied the impact of noise pollution on 38 schools in Barcelonacoming to the conclusion that traffic noise in schools affects the cognitive development of children.

Affects attention and memory

To carry out the study, in which 2,680 boys and girls between seven and ten years oldthe scientists focused on two skills that develop rapidly in preadolescence and are essential for learning and school performance: capacity of attention and the work memory.

Attention span allows us to attend to specific stimuli or focus on a task for a long time. While working memory allows us to maintain and manipulate information in short periods of time. And when this stored information must also be processed, we speak of complex working memory.

Attention span, working memory, and complex working memory were slower in boys and girls who attended schools with higher traffic noise.

The more traffic noise, the worse cognitive development

The investigation was carried out over 12 months in which the noise was measured both outside the schools, as well as in the courtyards and inside the classrooms. For their part, the children were evaluated four times with cognitive tests.

The researchers were able to verify that after a year of study, the progression of working memory, complex working memory and attention capacity was slower in male and female students who attended schools with greater noise pollution due to traffic.

For example, a 5 dB increase in outside noise levels resulted in a development of working memory a 11,4% slower, to a development of complex working memory a 23,5% lower, and to a development of the capacity of attention a 4,8% slower than average.

But it’s not just a matter of decibels

The higher the decibel level, the more affected are the children’s cognitive abilities. But not everything is a matter of the decibels to which they are exposed at school, but to the characteristics of that noise.

The study reveals that noise fluctuations interfere more than sustained average levels:

“This result indicates that noise spikes inside the classroom could be more disruptive for neurodevelopment than the mean of the decibels. This is important, because it reinforces the hypothesis that noise characteristics may have more influence than its average levels, when currently policies are only based on average decibels”, explains Maria Foraster, ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study.

The noise at home does not affect them

Another curiosity revealed by the study, which is noise levels in the home do not affect the cognitive development of children in the same way as the noises to which they are exposed at school.

“This could be because noise exposure at school is more detrimental because it affects vulnerable windows of concentration and learning processes,” says Forester.

In any case, it must be clarified that in-situ measurements were made in schools, while estimates were made in homes based on a road traffic noise map of the city of Barcelona that could be less precise, and that only reflected the noise outside.

Cover photo | Depositphotos

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