ITHACA, N.Y. -- Children in schools bombarded by frequent aircraft noise don't learn to read as well as children in quiet schools, Cornell University researchers have confirmed. And they have discovered one major reason: kids tune out speech in the racket.
"We've known for a long time that chronic noise is having a devastating effect on the academic performance of children in noisy homes and schools," says Gary Evans, an international expert on environmental stress, such as noise, crowding and air pollution. "This study shows that children don't tune out sound per se, rather they have difficulty acquiring speech recognition skills."
Evans and his collaborator, Lorraine Maxwell, both environmental psychologists, are in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell.
Evans and Maxwell compared children in a noisy school (in the flight path of a New York international airport) with similar children in a quiet school. Unlike in other studies, both groups of children were tested in quiet conditions. By doing so, the researchers showed that the link between chronic noise and reading scores is the chronic noise exposure -- not noisy episodes that might have occurred during the testing sessions.
Evans and Maxwell, whose study will be published in Environment and Behavior later this year, compared a total of 116 first and second graders from two elementary schools. One school was battered by peaks of up to 90 decibels of noise every 6.6 minutes by low-flying planes passing overhead. The other school, closely matched for ethnicity and percentage of children receiving subsidized school lunches and speaking English as a second language, was in the same urban area but in a quiet neighborhood. Only children for whom English was their first language were included in the study.
Each child was first given an auditory screening test. They were subsequently tested for abilities to read, distinguish words with
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Cornell University News Service