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ARTICLE Table of Contents   
Year : 2010  |  Volume : 12  |  Issue : 46  |  Page : 7-16
The associations between noise sensitivity, reported physical and mental health, perceived environmental quality, and noise annoyance

1 ZEUS GmbH, Sennbrink 46, 58093 Hagen, Germany
2 Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors at TU Dortmund University, Ardeystr 67, 44139 Dortmund, Germany
3 Hoerzentrum Oldenburg GmbH, Marie-Curie-Str.2, 26111 Oldenburg, Germany

Click here for correspondence address and email
Date of Web Publication16-Feb-2010

One hundred and ninety residents around Frankfurt Airport (46% female; 17-80 years) were interviewed concerning noise annoyance due to transportation noise (aircraft, road traffic), perceived mental and physical health, perceived environmental quality, and noise sensitivity. The aim of the analyses was to test whether noise sensitivity reflects partly general environmental sensitivity and is associated with an elevated susceptibility for the perception of mental and physical health. In this study, the reported physical and mental health variables were not associated with noise exposure but with noise annoyance, and were interpreted to reflect nonspecific codeterminants of annoyance rather than noise effects. Noise sensitivity was found to influence total noise annoyance and aircraft noise annoyance but to a lesser degree annoyance due to road traffic noise. Noise sensitivity was associated with reported physical health, but not with reported mental health. Noise-sensitive persons reported poorer environmental quality in their residential area than less sensitive persons in particular with regard to air traffic (including the facets noise, pollution, and contaminations) and quietness. Other aspects of the perceived quality of the environment were scarcely associated with noise sensitivity. This indicates that noise sensitivity is more specific and a reliable predictor of responses to noise from the dominant source (in this case air traffic) rather than a predictor of the individual perception of the environmental quality in general.

Keywords: Aircraft noise, health effects, noise sensitivity

How to cite this article:
Schreckenberg D, Griefahn B, Meis M. The associations between noise sensitivity, reported physical and mental health, perceived environmental quality, and noise annoyance. Noise Health 2010;12:7-16

How to cite this URL:
Schreckenberg D, Griefahn B, Meis M. The associations between noise sensitivity, reported physical and mental health, perceived environmental quality, and noise annoyance. Noise Health [serial online] 2010 [cited 2023 Dec 8];12:7-16. Available from: https://www.noiseandhealth.org/text.asp?2010/12/46/7/59995

  Introduction Top

Annoyance due to environmental noise is influenced by several nonacoustic factors such as personal traits and attitudes toward the source. [1],[2],[3] Noise sensitivity (NS) is regarded as a moderator or mediator of noise annoyance [4],[5],[6] and of other noise effects such as subjective sleep disturbances [7],[8],[9],[10],[11] or impaired mental performance. [12],[13],[14] NS was - irrespective of noise exposure - found to be associated with physical and mental health complaints, [15],[16],[17],[18],[19],[20],[21],[22] with personality traits such as introversion/extraversion, [23],[24] neuroticism [9],[20],[25],[26] or negative affectivity. [11]

There are different concepts, [4],[20] due to which NS is understood as a stable trait, an attitude or an internal state that, while independent from noise exposure, increases the susceptibility of an individual to noise in general and hence mediates or moderates the reactions to noise.

NS is usually measured by self assessment using single-items or multi-item questionnaires, e.g. Weinstein noise sensitivity scale (WNS), [27] 'Lärmempfindlichkeitsfragebogen' (LEF) [28] or by assessing annoyance due to several noise sources other than the noise actually studied. [29],[30],[31],[32]

NS and negative affectivity

According to several reports, NS is associated with sensitivity to other ambient influences such as odor and is therefore assumed to partly reflect a general environmental sensitivity. NS seems to be part of more general psychological and/or physiological dimensions and may be interpreted to be associated with an elevated personal susceptibility to stressors in general or to negative affectivity. [20],[21]

Negative affectivity denotes the disposition to experience aversive emotional states and to view oneself and the environment in a negative way. [33] It includes the feeling of distress, anger, (self-) dissatisfaction, revulsion etc. even in the absence of external stressors (e.g. noise). Negative affectivity comprises among others neuroticism, which is probably related to NS. Amann et al, [25] e.g. analyzed different measurements of NS in four cross-sectional studies, namely two face-to-face interviews and two telephone surveys. They equated neuroticism with negative affectivity and found moderate correlations with different NS scores (single item, self-constructed three-item scale, short version of LEF with nine items). Belojeviæ and Jakovljeviæ[26] reported a partial correlation (controlled by age and introversion/extraversion) between NS (determined with the WNS) and neuroticism (as assessed with the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire; EPQ). [34] In contrast neither Griffiths and Delauzun [35] nor Moreira and Bryan [36] found any correlation between NS and neuroticism.

The positive correlation of NS with sleep disturbances and health complaints determined by Smith et al, [11] in a field study on the effects of community noise in Bristol disappeared after the inclusion of negative affectivity as a covariate. Hence, the authors concluded that the "effects of NS can be largely explained by negative affectivity". [11] Watson and Pennebaker [37] reported strong associations between negative affectivity, self-reported health complaints and physical symptoms. They suggested an underlying broad and stable disposition of somatopsychic distress. Therefore, if NS is part of negative affectivity, this supports the suggestion of an association between NS and perceived health.

NS and physiological functions

Regarding the relationship between NS and physiological functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, skin resistance etc., the literature provides inconsistent results. Stansfeld et al., [32] found apart from lower heart rates in noise sensitive women, living in West London areas of low and high aircraft noise exposure, no other physiological differences (blood pressure, skin conductance, hearing thresholds measured during and after interviewing the subjects at home) as compared to women with lower sensitivity, living in the same areas.

Concerning physiological reactions to noise, Di Nisi et al., [38] registered stronger heart rate increases in high noise-sensitive persons who completed a mental task during noise exposure than individuals with lower NS. Griefahn and Di Nisi [39] reported larger alterations of heart rate and peripheral blood flow to louder noises in sensitive than in nonsensitive persons. Persson Waye et al, [40] ascertained cortisol levels during mental performance tasks under ventilation noise but found elevated levels only when lower frequencies were added to the original noise. No significant differences between the physiological reactions to noise (heart rates) of sensitive and of nonsensitive persons were observed in an experimental study with 93 participants, [24] which was confirmed by another study. [41]

NS and self-reported health

Several studies focused on the relation between NS and self-reported health. Whereas most studies revealed an association with self-reported mental health, associations with self-reported physical health are less clear. In the West London Study on the effects of aircraft noise, Tarnopolsky et al, [22] found a higher percentage of possible psychiatric cases among high noise-sensitive persons (as assessed with single-item self report) than in persons with average or low NS. Stansfeld [20] reported accordingly higher NS-scores in depressed patients than in matched controls (hospital staff), a higher rate of nonspecific neurotic symptoms in noise sensitive patients and a decrease of NS with recovery from depression. Taking the latter result into account, Stansfeld concluded that high noise sensitivity in these patients is partly secondary to current psychiatric state and that it diminishes as psychiatric symptoms lessen". [20] However, he also stated that part of this drop in NS may be an effect of regression to the mean and thus an artifact of repeated measurements. [20],[33]

Iwato [17] ascertained NS with a 21-item scale developed in reference to the WNS and self-reported mental and physical symptoms with the Japanese version of the Cornell Medical Index (CMI) [42] in 132 students. In this study, students with high NS-levels reported as compared to students with lower NS-levels more neurotic symptoms but a similar number of physical health symptoms. Nivison and Endresen, [19] who ascertained noise sensitivity, mental, and physical symptoms in women, showed by multiple regression analysis that only anxiety and nervous complaints - as indicators of self-reported mental health - contributed to the prediction of NS.

NS and susceptibility to environmental stressors in general

Stansfeld [20] suggested that NS is part of two general dimensions, namely, neuroticism and environmental vulnerability. Weinstein [43] suggested that NS is part of a critical-uncritical dimension, i.e. the tendency of individuals to express negative judgments including critical evaluation of a wide range of physical and social facets of the environment quality (noise, privacy, air pollution, neighborhood). Indeed, several studies revealed a significant association between NS and sensitivity against non noise-related aspects of the environmental quality. Stansfeld and colleagues [31] found in women significant correlations between NS and general sensitivity, i.e. self-reported sensitivity to five sensory modalities (brightness, colour, pain, smell, touch). Similar, Hatfield et al., [44] used the same general sensitivity scale in the Sydney Airport Health Study and found a significant correlation between general sensitivity and NS. However, apart from the effects of NS and general sensitivity on psychological reactions to aircraft noise (general reaction, annoyance and activity disturbance), in regression models NS was also associated with reported anxiety, general health, substance use and in high noise exposure areas panic, whereas general sensitivity was only related to reported general health in areas with high aircraft noise exposure and to depression and anxiety in areas with low noise areas. When NS entered the regression models as a predictor of noise outcomes at the second step in addition to the general sensitivity, which was included as predictor at the first step, the multiple correlation for psychological reactions to noise and most of the reported health and mood variables increased significantly. The authors concluded that in the Sidney Airport Health Study, noise specific sensitivity turned out to be a more reliable predictor of noise effects (including reported health and mood) than general sensitivity.

Winneke and Neuf [45] exposed 119 persons, who were in their residential area either exposed to traffic noise or to industrial odors; experimentally to traffic noise, odorous compound (H 2 S), and tobacco smoke. Those who were highly annoyed by either traffic noise or industrial odors reported more disturbances across all three experimentally applied physico-chemical stressors than those persons who were less annoyed by their environment. Hoeger [46] found that noise sensitive persons showed a greater attentional focus in a visual detection task and that the size of attentional focus - operationalizing the degree of environmental monitoring - contributed to a greater extent to the explanation of disturbance by noise in a memory task session than noise sensitivity. He concluded that the degree of noise sensitivity reflects the extent of how people monitor their environment in general.

These findings are in accordance with a field study performed by Moehler et al, [47] who found correlations between noise sensitivity and odor sensitivity, and Lercher et al, [48] who reported in their field study a correlation between sensitivity toward odor and noise annoyance due to road traffic noise.

Nordin et al, [49] found accordingly significant correlations between scores of the Chemical sensitivity scale and the scores of the WNS. Further, Langdon [50] performed a social survey with 2 933 residents of Greater London and reported that environmental quality in the local neighborhood was judged lowest by noise-sensitive and highest by nonsensitive persons.

Aim of the study

Evidence from the literature suggests that general internal dimensions in human beings such as negative affectivity, critical tendencies and attentional processes underlie the concept of NS and account for the perception of oneself and the environment in general. This means that NS is associated with perceived quality of life and subjective perception of mental and of physical health.

In this study, the data of residents living around a large airport focused on subjective estimates of 'health-related quality' and of 'environmental quality' of life were analyzed with regard to the following hypotheses. NS is one (of several) indicators of general environmental sensitivity and is associated with an elevated susceptibility for the subjective (negative) perception of mental and of physical health. This leads to correlations between NS and reported mental and physical health (H1). As NS refers specifically to the stressor 'noise' it is - as shown in numerous studies - related to noise annoyance. Moreover, as NS is part of a susceptibility to environmental stressors in general it is also associated with perceived aspects of environmental quality other than noise, that is noise sensitive people are more aware of the negative aspects of their residential environment (H2).

  Materials and Methods Top


A total of 2,310 residents living within a 40-km distance from Frankfurt Airport were interviewed with regard to their residential situation, health-related quality of life, annoyance and disturbances due to noise, in particular to aircraft noise. [51] The analyses presented here focus on a subsample of 190 persons (46% female; 17-80 years, mean age: 51 years) whose noise sensitivity was ascertained with the noise sensitivity questionnaire (see below).

Noise load

Noise load was indicated by the equivalent noise level, that was separately calculated for daytime (LAeq,16h ) and night time (Lnight ), and separately for aircraft and road traffic noise. As the result patterns were similar for both measures, this article concerns daytime noise levels (LAeq,16h ) only. The aircraft noise levels were calculated for each address on the base of flight movements of the six busiest months of the year 2005. Individual road traffic noise levels were taken from noise maps.

LAeq,16h ranged from 41 to 62 dB (mean: 52 dB) for aircraft and 35 to 69 dB (mean: 51 dB) for road traffic noise. Note that aircraft noise was dominant and road traffic was the secondary noise source in most of the investigated areas.


Noise sensitivity (NS) was ascertained with the noise sensitivity questionnaire (NoiSeQ), [52] that consists of 35 items, namely, seven items each for the following five everyday life activities: 'communication', 'habitation', 'leisure', 'sleep', and 'work'. Each item consists of a statement that concerns affective, cognitive, or behavioural reactions to noise where the respondents' agreement is ascertained with a four-point scale (0: strongly disagree, 1: slightly disagree, 2: slightly agree, 3: strongly agree). The reliability of the questionnaire was tested using the G-theory. The coefficient of φ = 0.91 qualifies the NS-score for precision measurements according to ISO 10075-3:2004.[52],[53]

Noise annoyance: Total noise annoyance (NA total ,), annoyance due to aircraft noise (NA aircraft ) and to road traffic noise (NA road ) in the residential area during the last 12 months before the interview were ascertained using the standardized verbal five-point scale. [54],[55]

Environmental and social problems (ESP) in the residential area were assessed with 23 items. A factor analysis (based on the total of 2,310 interviews) revealed five factors that explained 56% of the variance, namely'ESP-road' (including traffic density, emission of noise and pollution, road safety; Cronbachs α = .82),

  • 'ESP-aircraft' (aircraft-related emission of noise and pollution, contaminations, air pollution; α = .83),
  • 'ESP-economic situation' (unemployment, economic situation, delinquency, aging, and density of population; α = .73),
  • 'ESP-miscellaneous environmental problems' (water quality, nuclear power, infrastructure, odor, playgrounds, and green area; α = .74)
  • 'ESP-neighbors' (unfriendliness, noise; α = .65).
The factor scores were calculated by averaging the rating values of the respective items. They represented different subdimensions of the perceived environmental quality. In addition, all items were summarized to a global score as a measure of ESP (α = .90).

Residential satisfaction (RS) was ascertained with 14 items that describe several attributes of the residential areas. Thirteen items were taken from a 16-item scale used in the Swiss Noise Study 2000. [56] The items that occurred in the ESP-scale (road traffic noise, air pollution, green area) were excluded. Instead, one item concerning supraregional transport connection was added. The factor analysis of these items revealed the following five factors that explain 61% of variance.

  • 'RS-infrastructure' (shopping facilities, public transport, schools, leisure facilities, distance to the city, supraregional transport connection; α = .79),
  • 'RS-quietness' (noise insulation of windows, house facades, quietness in the residential area; α = .76) and
  • 'RS-attractiveness' (appearance, possibility of recreation, neighbors; α = .63).
  • 'Distance to work' (one item)
  • 'Quality of dwelling' (one item)
The first three factor scores were calculated by averaging the rating values of the respective items. Further, all items were averaged to a global score of residential satisfaction (RS-global).

The correlation between RS and ESP was r = 0.50, indicating that RS and ESP are the related dimensions of the perceived environmental quality of the residential area.

Self-reported physical and mental health: Four instruments were applied to indicate these variables

  • Health-related quality of life was quantified with two approved items of the SF-12 [57] , namely, 'SF-12 mental health' and 'SF-12 physical health'.
  • Diagnosed diseases. The interviewees named from a list of 18 diseases those diseases that were diagnosed by a physician (ever, the last 12 months). The list of diseases was taken from the German National Health Study 1998. [58] The number of diseases was then used as a morbidity score.
  • Life satisfaction was measured by means of the FLZ-A ('Fragebogen zur Lebenszufriedenheit', German life satisfaction scale) [59] where satisfaction with 10 aspects of everyday life (e.g. friends, hobby, income, work, habitation, family, sexuality) was estimated with a five-point scale and then averaged. All satisfaction ratings were weighted with the relevance of the respective life aspect, which was also assessed on a five-point rating scale.
  • Habitual sleep quality was ascertained with the German version of the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). [60] Here the Global PSQI, i.e. the sum of seven subscales, was used.
These health-related variables were submitted to a factor analysis that revealed two factors explaining 66% of variance. These factors in this report were labelled as 'reported physical health' (including 'SF-12 physical health' and 'morbidity') and 'reported mental health' (including 'SF12 mental health', 'life satisfaction', and 'PSQI sleep quality').


Correlations of noise levels and noise annoyance with NS, variables concerning health-related quality of life and self-reported health problems, ESP as well as RS variables, age, and gender were calculated. This was done in order to differentiate at a first step those variables, which are related to noise exposure and can therefore be interpreted as (secondary) reactions to noise, and those variables, which are not related to noise exposure but to noise annoyance, can be interpreted as codeterminants of noise annoyance.

A multiple regression analysis was done with NS as a criterion to estimate the explained variance by reported mental and physical health together with age. ANOVAs were applied with NS as a dependent variable to analyze possible interactions between health-related variables and age. This way of modeling the relationship between NS and reported health was chosen to indicate that the perception of oneself as more or less specifically sensitive to noise goes along with the perception of oneself as more or less burdened with mental and physical health problems in general. Note that in this study the reported physical and mental health was not associated with noise exposure in the sense of a dose-response relationship (see below). As the health variables in this study were not correlated with exposure but with noise annoyance, they were interpreted to reflect more nonspecific codeterminants of noise annoyance (in terms of pre-existing health diseases) rather than noise effects. It was then decided not to model the reported and mental health as outcome variables in analyses on the association between NS and reported health.

To analyze the extend in which NS and reported health codetermine noise annoyance as well as the perceived environmental quality in the residential area in general, further regression analyses were done to ascertain the explained variance of noise annoyance, perceived environmental/social problems, and residential satisfaction using aircraft noise level, NS and self-reported health as predictors.

In the analyses, a probability value of P < .01 was defined as the level of significance.

  Results Top

Correlations between NS, noise load and selected subjective variables

As shown in [Table 1], NS was not related to noise load but significantly to NA total , and NA aircraft , however, not to NA road . NA total and NA aircraft were associated with aircraft noise exposure, where NA road was related to road traffic noise. This may be due to the fact that road traffic is the secondary source in most of the areas, whereas aircraft noise is dominant.

No interaction was found between noise exposure and NS in multiple regression analyses with annoyance variables as criteria and noise load, NS and the interaction between NS and the noise load variables as predictors (coefficients in regression analyses with NA total as criterion: β = .06, P = .38 for the interaction term NS*L Aeq,16h aircraft, and β = -.10, P = .16 for the interaction term NS*L Aeq,16h road; in regression analyses with the criteria NA aircraft and NA road , respectively;β = -.01, P = .84 for the interaction term NS*L Aeq,16h aircraft, and β = -.01, P = .20 for the interaction term NS*L Aeq,16h road). These results hint to the possible role of NS as a cofactor of noise annoyance independent from noise exposure.

According to [Table 2], all ESP- and most RS-variables are correlated significantly with NA total , NA aircraft or NA road . Half of the ESP-variables and all RS-variables are correlated with noise from aircraft but not from roads. This might indicate a partial influence of environmental noise on ESP- and on RS-variables. When controlling for noise annoyance (NA total , NA aircraft , NA road ) subsequently performed partial correlation analyses revealed lower associations between ESP- and RS-variables on the one hand and noise exposure on the other hand. This suggests that the relation between ESP- and RS-variables with noise levels is partly mediated by noise annoyance.

The reported health variables were not correlated with noise load. This was also true after adjusting to socio-demographic factors such as gender, age or social status (an index including income, education, and occupational status) [51],[61] for the subsample investigated in this study as well as for the whole sample of the main study. Apart from the PSQI that correlated significantly with NA total and NA aircraft, the correlations between reported health variables and noise annoyance failed to become significant in this study in contrast to the main study, where associations between noise annoyance and reported health were found. [61] Concerning socio-demographic variables, gender is correlated significantly with NA total indicating slightly higher noise annoyance in women than in men.

Prediction of NS by reported health, age and gender

A multiple regression analysis was done with reported mental health, reported physical health, age and gender as predictors and NS as criterion [Table 3].

The variables included in the regression model explained 23% of the variance of NS.

Age contributed most, whereas the role of gender was not significant. Concerning the two health-related predictors, only reported physical health contributed significantly to the prediction of NS. No interaction between reported physical and mental health with regard to the impact on NS was found when adding the interaction term reported physical health * mental health in the regression analysis (â = -.002…, P = .98 for the interaction term).

Owing to a 2-factorial ANOVA with age and reported physical health as independent and NS as dependent variable [Figure 1], there was no interaction between age and reported physical health. This indicates that NS increases in persons with lower levels of reported physical health independently from age.

Regression models with noise annoyance and perceived environmental/social problems as criterion

To determine the influence of NS on annoyance and on the evaluation of environmental problems in the residential area, regression models were calculated with noise loads (aircraft, road traffic) as predictors. Further predictors that were not related to noise load, namely NS, reported physical health and reported mental health, were included as well.

  • The criteria were noise annoyance indicated by NA total , NA aircraft , and NA road ;
  • ESP (environmental/social problems in the residential area including air traffic, road traffic, miscellaneous environmental problems, economic situation and neighbors);
  • RS (residential satisfaction including RS-global, -quietness, -attractiveness, -infrastructure).
Although the approximation to normal distribution was improved by transformation (logarithm, square), the coefficients and the significance levels of the regression models were similar and led to the same conclusions when using the original data. Therefore, the results reported here concern the original data.

Noise annoyance: In this regression analysis, noise level explained most of the variance of noise annoyance (aircraft noise level with regard to NA total , and NA aircraft , road noise level with regard to NA road ). Among the personal variables, only NS contributed to the prediction of noise annoyance, in particular NA total and NA aircraft [Table 4].

Environmental/social problems (ESP): Owing to the multiple regression analyses with ESP-variables as criteria [Table 5] mainly ESP-aircraft (R² = .36) and ESP-global (R² = .22) could be explained by the acoustical and personal variables. Exposure to one or more noise sources contributed in particular to the prediction of ESP-aircraft and ESP-road. The higher the noise exposure, the higher is the perception of respective traffic problems, meaning that the perception of environment problems partly reflects responses to environmental noise. The global ESP-score was also predicted by aircraft noise level, which may be due to the fact that aircraft-related items are included in this score. NS and reported physical health only contributed to the prediction of ESP-aircraft, which includes aircraft-related noise, pollution and contaminations. Reported mental health contributed to the explanation of most of the ESP-variables.

Residential satisfaction (RS): According to [Table 6], the investigated predictors could mainly explain RS-global (R² = .29) and RS-quietness (R² = .27), whereas the explained variance for RS-attractiveness and RS-infrastructure did not exceed 0.17 and 0.13 respectively. All the four RS-variables were significantly associated with reported mental health, whereas the aircraft noise level had additionally an influence on RS-global and RS-quietness. NS contributed exclusively to the explanation of RS-quietness. Reported physical health did not significantly predict any of the RS-variables.

  Discussion Top

In this study, two hypotheses were formulated in order to test the association between NS and reported health as well as perceived environmental quality of life. If internal dimensions such as negative affectivity, critical tendencies and attentional processes underlie the concept of NS and account for the perception of one's own health status as well as for the perception of the environment in general, then NS should be related to reported mental and physical health in a regression model (H1). In addition, NS should not only be associated with noise annoyance but also with the perceived environmental quality in the residential area in general (H2).

NS and reported physical and mental health (H1)

In this study NS was associated with reported physical health but not with reported mental health. This result contradicts the findings of Iwato [17] and Nivison and Endresen, [19] who found that the relationship between NS and indicators of mental health is at least as strong as the association between NS and self-reported physical health problems. Nivison and Endresen [19] as well as Stansfeld [20] reported the observed relationship only for women. Regression models calculated in this study for both genders revealed that for both male and female mental health failed to predict NS.

A (post-hoc) explanation for the findings may be the distinction between the concepts of negative affectivity and positive affectivity according to Watson and colleges. [62] Both are two different dimensions of affect. Whereas negative affectivity reflects aspects of unpleasantness and is related to health complaints, (low) positive affectivity implies feelings with regard to (dis)engagement associated with (a lack of) energy. Correspondingly, high positive affectivity is associated with enthusiasm, excitement, and alertness. Similar to the concept of positive affectivity, the factor of mental health used in this study includes aspects of vitality, activity (SF-12) and satisfaction with different aspects of life. Therefore, it can be assumed that the reported mental health as ascertained in this study reflects the dimension of positive affectivity, whereas the reported physical health reflects negative affectivity, which was previously found to be correlated with noise sensitivity. [20,21] Note, that negative as well as positive affectivity was not assessed in this study. Therefore, further research is needed to test the role of both sides of affectivity in the context of noise, noise sensitivity and health. As far as the authors know, only negative affectivity has been investigated in the context of noise.

One can argue that the concept of positive affectivity as an explanation of our findings with regard to the relationship of NS and reported mental health does not account for the associations found in previous studies. However, mental health as assessed in previous studies, was focused on health problems, i.e. aversive aspects of health (psychiatric disorders, [20],[21],[22] complaints, [19] mental symptoms [17],[63] ) whereas in this study as mentioned reported mental health refers to vitality, activity and life satisfaction.

One of the limitations of this study is that negative affectivity or related concepts such as neuroticism were, unfortunately, not explicitly assessed in the field study carried out at Frankfurt Airport. However, in accordance with Job and Sakashita, [64] who stated that the simple warning 'correlation is not causation' is misleading and that allowing for assumptions about relationships between (noise - health) variables, based on previous research, improve the interpretation of empirically identified associations, negative affectivity was introduced as a possible explanation of the reported health-NS relationship found in this study.

NS, noise annoyance and judged environmental quality (H2)

As expected, NS was not correlated with noise exposure but was associated with noise annoyance in the residential area in general (NA total ) and with annoyance due to the main noise source around airports, namely, aircraft (NA aircraft ). It was not related to annoyance due to road traffic noise, which may be due to the fact that road traffic is the secondary source in most of the areas, whereas aircraft noise is dominant. Furthermore, NS did not contribute to the prediction of most of the perceived environmental/social problems and residential satisfaction. Therefore, hypothesis H2 is not confirmed by the data.

Only ESP-aircraft, including aircraft-related noise, pollution and contaminations, and RS-quietness, concerning windows and façade insulation as well as quietness in the residential area, were significantly associated with NS. Both, ESP-aircraft and RS-quietness, were also correlated with aircraft noise levels and thus can be understood as (secondary) reactions to aircraft noise exposure. That is, the relationship between ESP-aircraft, RS-quietness and NS seems to indicate an association of NS with aircraft noise reactions and does not mean that NS reflects a sensibility to environmental stressors in general. Thus, the findings do not support Weinstein's critical tendency hypothesis [43] which suggests that NS is part of a general tendency of noise sensitive individuals to be more aware of the negative aspects of their environment and to judge the perceived environmental quality more critically. In fact, the results of this study indicate that NS is more specific and therefore a reliable predictor of responses to noise (like annoyance) rather than a predictor of the perception of the environmental quality in general. This suggests that residents when judging the environmental quality of the residential area they live in are well able to differentiate between different aspects of their environment.

Noise sensitivity and age

In this study, age contributed to the prediction of NS, indicating higher NS for older people in comparison to young people. This association between NS and age was found in previous studies as well. For example, Nivison and Endresen [19] and Matsumura and Rylander [65] found an increase of NS with age. Zimmer and Ellermeier [66] reported only a tendency in the same direction when measuring NS with the LEF, probably due to the limited age range in this study. On the other hand, Heinonen-Guzejev et al, [67] observed a decrease of NS (measured with the WNS) with age, whereas Stansfeld et al, [31] found the highest NS (using a single-item self-report and the McKennell scale for sensitivity measurement) among middle-aged women (30-44 years) and a declining sensitivity in older age groups. Belojeviæ and Jakovljeviæ,[26] using the WNS for NS measurement, as well as Moreira and Bryan [36] ascertaining NS with both single-item assessment and multi-item scale observed no correlation between age and NS. Hence, the different findings suggest an inconsistent relationship between age and NS which may partly be an artifact due to different measurements of NS. That is, in most of the cited studies, WNS and the single item measurement of NS might behave different than the LEF and the NoiSeQ,

  Conclusion Top

In this study, it was hypothesized that NS is associated with an elevated susceptibility for the negative perception of ones own mental and physical health due to an underlying internal dimension (negative affectivity) affecting both NS and the subjectively perceived health. A second assumption was that NS is part of environmental sensitivity in general.

The results of survey data of 190 persons living in the vicinity of Frankfurt Airport Study indicate that NS is associated with self-reported physical health but not with reported mental health. NS contributed to the prediction of the evaluated environmental quality in the residential area in particular with regard to air traffic (including the facets noise, pollution, and contaminations) and quietness. Other aspects of the perceived quality of the environment were hardly associated with NS. Therefore, little evidence was found that NS affects the perception of general environmental quality in general. This indicates that NS is more specific and therefore a reliable predictor of responses to noise rather than a predictor of the way in which people perceive the environmental quality in their residential area in general.

  References Top

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Correspondence Address:
Dirk Schreckenberg
ZEUS GmbH, Sennbrink 46, 58093 Hagen
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/1463-1741.59995

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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5], [Table 6]

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