Breaking the cycle

Attention to acoustic design means we don’t have to shout louder to be heard

The Tove Ditlevsens school, Denmark

If you’ve been in a busy restaurant or bar, you’ll have experienced the “Lombard effect”. It’s our tendency to talk louder as the noise levels around us increase, creating a vicious cycle of noise pollution. In a restaurant, the resulting cacophony is little more than an irritation. But in schools and hospitals, the Lombard effect has more serious consequences.

Half of teachers in a recent study had suffered permanent damage to their voices because of the need to shout to make themselves heard in noisy classrooms1. Research shows that students suffer, too. When they performed a task against background noise, 25 percent of primary school children demonstrated a drop in memory performance. And a 20dB rise in general noise pollution has been shown to delay the reading age of 9-10 year olds by up to eight months2.

Noise and learning: The cognitive performance of both children and adults is reduced by noise. Their ability to learn is impaired in noisy environments.

Noise pollution is also a serious issue in hospitals. It’s been shown that noise pollution as low as 75dBA can damage health in the long- and short-term, with impacts on patients ranging from hearing loss to high blood pressure. Excessive noise impairs healthcare professionals’ cognitive abilities, making it harder to think clearly, concentrate and perform complex tasks3.

 As a growing body of evidence reveals the damaging impacts of noise pollution, it’s important that we respond. Good acoustic designs that absorb sound help professionals and students to think and talk more easily, and at the same time create better environments for learning and healing.

1-2 Building in Sound – BIAMP Systems White Paper
3 J. D, MD, Noise in the Operating Room, The American Society of Anesthesiologists, Inc.; 2014

Voice damage

of teachers suffer permanent voice damage because of classroom noise

Memory performance

fall in primary school children’s memory performance against background noise

Background noise

is enough background noise to cause long-term health problems for patients

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