Cambridge IELTS 7, Test 4, Reading Passage 3 : EFFECTS of Noise

You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 27-40. which are based on Reading Passage 160 below.

EFFECTS of Noise

In general, it is plausible to suppose that we should prefer peace and quiet to noise. And yet most of us have had the experience of having to adjust to sleeping in the mountains or the countryside because it was initially too quiet. Van experience that suggests that humans are capable of adapting to a wide range-of noise levels. Research supports this view. For example, Glass and Singer (1972) exposed people to short bursts of very loud noise and then measured their ability to work out problems and their physiological reactions to the noise. The noise was quite disruptive at first, but after about four minutes the subjects were doing just as well on their tasks as control subjects who were not exposed to noise. Their physiological arousal also declined quickly to the same levels as those of the control subjects.

But there are limits to adaptation and loud noise becomes more troublesome if the person is required to concentrate on more than one task. For example, high noise levels interfered with the performance of subjects who were required to monitor three dials at a time, a task not unlike that of an aeroplane pilot or an air-traffic controller (Broadbent, 1957).  Similarly, noise did not affect a subject’s ability to track a moving line with a steering wheel, but it did interfere with the subject’s ability to repeat numbers while tracking (Finke man and Glass 1970).

Probably the most significant finding from research on noise is that its predictability is more important than how loud it is. We are much more able to ‘tune out’ chronic, background noise, even if it is quite loud, than to work under circumstances with unexpected intrusions of noise. In the Glass and Singer study, in which subjects were exposed to bursts of noise as they worked on a task, some subjects heard loud bursts and others heard soft bursts. For some subjects, the bursts were spaced exactly one minute apart (predictable noise); others heard the same amount of noise overall, but the bursts occurred at random intervals (unpredictable noise).


Unpredictable Noise % Predictable Noise


Loud noise   40.1   31,8   35.9 .
Soft noise   -36.7   27.4   32.1
Average   35.4   29.6

Table 1: Proofreading Errors and Noise

Subjects reported finding the predictable and unpredictable noise equally annoying, and all subjects performed at about the same level during the noise portion of the experiment- But the different noise conditions had quite different after-effects when the subjects were required to proofread written material under conditions of no noise. As shown in Table 1 the unpredictable noise produced more errors in the later proofreading task than predictable noise; and soft, unpredictable noise actually produced slightly more errors on this task than the loud, predictable noise.

Apparently, unpredictable noise produces more fatigue than predictable noise, but it takes a while for this fatigue to take its toll on performance.

Predictability is not the only variable that reduces or eliminates the negative effects of noise. Another is control. If the individual knows that he or she can control the noise, this seems to eliminate both its negative effects at the time and its after-effects. This is true even if the individual never actually exercises his or her option to turn the noise off (Glass and- Singer, 1972). Just the knowledge that one has control is sufficient.

The studies discussed so far exposed people lo noise for only short periods and only transient effects were studied. But the major worry about noisy environments is that living day after day with chronic noise may produce serious, lasting effects. One study, suggesting that this worry is a realistic one, compared elementary school pupils who attended schools – near Los Angeles’s busiest airport with students who attended schools in quiet neighborhoods (Cohen et al., 1980). It was found that children from the noisy schools -had higher blood pressure and were more easily distracted than those who attended the quiet schools. Moreover, there was no evidence of adaptability to the noise. In fact, the longer the children had attended the noisy schools, the more distractible they became. The effects also seem to be long lasting. A follow-up study showed that children who were moved to less noisy classrooms still showed greater distractibility one year later than students who had always been in the quiet schools (Cohen et al, 1981). It should be noted that the two groups of children had been carefully matched by the investigators so that they were comparable in age, ethnicity, race, and social class.

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