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Year : 2001  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 13  |  Page : 51--70

The intrusiveness of sound : Laboratory findings and their implications for noise abatement


School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom

Correspondence Address:
Robert Hughes
School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3YG
United Kingdom
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


PMID: 12678935

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Environmental policy with regard to noise abatement has traditionally only considered whether the noise levels in a given setting are high enough to be deemed a source of annoyance, disturbance, or threat to well being. However, laboratory studies using both simple and more complex work-related tasks have shown that task-irrelevant sound, regardless of its intensity, intrudes upon cognitive processing and disrupts performance substantially; furthermore, its damaging effect does not diminish with repeated exposure to the sound over time. For tasks that require short-term memory processing (particularly the short-term maintenance of order information) sound assumes disruptive power if it is acoustically varying over its time course. However, other properties of sound (e.g., the semanticity of speech) can incur an additional cost if the primary task necessitates or tends to evoke the extraction of meaning. It will be argued that interference in each case is explained by reference to a conflict between two concurrent mental processes; that being demanded by the task and that being involuntarily applied to properties of the sound. Such harmful effects, as well as having direct consequences for the general well-being of those working in noisy environments, may have far reaching consequences for health insofar as extraneous sound is a feature of many safety-critical work settings. Implications for noise abatement policy are highlighted.






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