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Year : 2003  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 21  |  Page : 1--2

Noise, communication and task performance

SM Abel 
 Communications Group, Human Factors Research and Engineering Section, Defence Research and Development Canada - Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Correspondence Address:
S M Abel
Communications Group, Human Factors Research and Engineering Section, Defence Research and Development Canada - Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

How to cite this article:
Abel S M. Noise, communication and task performance.Noise Health 2003;6:1-2

How to cite this URL:
Abel S M. Noise, communication and task performance. Noise Health [serial online] 2003 [cited 2021 Dec 7 ];6:1-2
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This special issue of Noise & Health represents a sampling of the wide range and richness of research currently being undertaken globally to assess the effects of noise on communication and the performance of both auditory and non­auditory tasks. As you will see the venues explored are highly diverse, the listening situations complex, and the tasks multi-faceted.

Our concept of the workplace is expanded in the research of Smith et al. Their study takes place not in a nickel mine or steel-making plant but on the International Space Station where astronauts complain of the difficulty of concentrating on mental tasks in noise levels that are not considered injurious to hearing. The focus is the development of a reliable battery of tests that can assess a wide range of cognitive capabilities which take into account situational, space and time constraints.

The importance of testing a wide range of auditory abilities to optimize the selection of individuals for hearing critical jobs is stressed by Laroche et al. They argue that measures must be identified which model the real-world listening situation targeted along with the task requirements. These may include auditory detection and discrimination and sound localization, as well as speech intelligibility in high noise levels. The importance of taking into account pre-existing hearing loss, as well as individual adaptation strategies and the role played by the other senses are discussed.

Characteristics of successful communications systems in noisy environments are reviewed by Edworthy et al. They focus, in particular, on the optimal characteristics of the speaker, and note the importance of manipulating both acoustic and non-acoustic parameters. Among these are the overlap of speech and noise spectra, the ability of the speaker to portray urgency through voice parameters such as the pitch range and level, and the implications of the words used in the message. The conclusion is that significant improvements in performance may be realized if parameters that enhance the message are introduced at an early stage in the design process.

The problem of perception and recognition of auditory warning sounds in noise by subjects who are trying to maintain a high level of performance on a non auditory task are explored by Sust and Lazarus. The problem is how best to optimize the auditory signal so that it will be processed quickly and reliably, regardless of the other activities in progress. Two parameters are highlighted by the authors for this dual task paradigm, features of the signal to make it more salient and the degree of concentration that must be devoted to the primary task.

Hughes and Jones look at another side of this issue. Their particular interest is the processing by the brain of irrelevant sounds. They argue that so called unattended information is not only registered but also organized. The costs (distraction) and benefits (the flexibility of attention) of this obligatory work for the management of relevant auditory and non­auditory information are investigated and discussed.

Finally, Belojevic et al. critically review studies of personality factors that may affect tolerance to noise. These include traits such as extroversion, neuroticism and arousability or stress tolerance. The authors show evidence that individual differences in these traits may underlie the wide variability observed in the performance of mental tasks. The question of interest is whether a person's sensitivity to noise and his/her ability to perform in noise may be predicted given a knowledge of such characteristics.

In conclusion, the Editors and Authors hope you enjoy this special issue and that the papers will serve to broaden awareness of the pervasiveness and impact of noise in our daily lives. Previous research on the effects of noise on communication and task performance has largely centred on interference by noise levels that are injurious to hearing. The papers selected for this issue stress the importance of viewing unwanted sound, regardless of level or content, as a masker or distracter that may impede our ability to handle the task at hand. These may be exacerbated by characteristics of the listener, whether his/her hearing status or personality traits that influence sensitivity to noise. The research presented suggests methods to optimize performance in noise and stresses the need to search for opportunities to influence the design of communications systems with the listener in mind.