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Personal Music Players & Hearing

10. In what other ways can sound exposure affect children and adolescents?

    Psychological effects

    Exposure to disturbing sounds, such as road and aircraft noise, can have psychological effects. For instance, they can hamper reading, memory, motivation and attention.

    Many studies on the effects of road and aircraft noise reveal an impact of short and long-term exposure on reading skills and memory.

    • For instance, children who were exposed for a short period of time (15 minutes) to aircraft noise at levels of 55dB(A) or to combined aircraft and road traffic noise at 65 dB(A) while they were reading a text, remembered less what they had read than those who read the text in silence. Even if there is currently no study stating that the same is true for music in general or personal music players in particular, there is no reason to assume that music should be less harmful to the ability to read and memorise than aircraft noise, road traffic or speech noise. Thus listening to music from personal music players while at the same time trying to read a text and learn from it is assumed to hamper memory and learning.
    • Children who are regularly exposed to aircraft noise tend to learn to read more slowly, have poorer language skills, worse memory of a text and do less well in school than non-exposed children. However, a poorer performance in school could be due to factors other than exposure to loud sounds, such as differences in social or economic background. There is also an indication that children may recover from the noise-induced learning deficit, when noise exposure stops. However, it is not known whether this recovery depends on the age of the children in question. Currently, there is insufficient scientific data to assume that excessive voluntary listening to personal music players leads to lasting and irreversible learning and attention deficits.

    Regarding motivation, children regularly exposed to noise, are more likely to abandon tasks than children living in quieter areas. However, the effects of exposure to sounds on motivation are strongly dependent on whether or not the person exposed has any control over the sound exposure. The children in the studies have no control over the noise they are exposed to, while people who listen to music from personal music players do so willingly and are unlikely to lose any motivation for that reason.

    Exposure to sounds can also distract the person that hears them. When a task is simple, boring and repetitive, people tend to do it better if there is some background sound present. When the sound is music from a personal music player, one would expect the beneficial effect of music to be even greater, offering comfort and masking distracting sounds. However, complicated tasks that require thinking are likely to be hampered by sounds. Another factor to consider with regard to attention is that music can mask other sounds, whether or not they are beneficial. For instance, when people listen to personal music players, they may not hear warning sounds such as cars approaching or trucks reversing, which is very dangerous. Even if the music level itself is not high enough to mask these sounds, the listener may occasionally be focused on the music alone and be oblivious to ambient sounds.

    Exposure to sounds disrupts the sleep of adults but children tend to sleep better than their parents, and seem to be less disturbed by sounds.

    Several studies have found some link between increased blood pressure and noise-induced hearing loss, although the effect is small and it is not possible to tell whether noise exposure caused the raised blood pressure. A similar number of studies have not found such a link. However, recent studies have found a significant relationship between aircraft noise – but not road noise – and raised blood pressure. Recent reports also show that people exposed to loud sounds may be at a higher risk of developing certain types of heart disease. Evidence is insufficient to conclude that music from personal music players represents a risk of high blood pressure and heart disease in children and young adults. More...


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