According to a new study conducted in 38 Barcelona schools, road noise has a negative impact on the development of working memory and attention in primary school kids.
The results of this study, which was headed by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, were published in the journal PLoS Medicine.
The study involved 2,680 children aged 7 to 10 years old and was headed by researchers Maria Foraster and Jordi Sunyer as part of the BREATHE initiative. The researchers focused on two capacities that develop fast throughout preadolescence and are critical for learning and school achievement: attention and working memory, in order to investigate the potential impact of traffic noise on cognitive development.
The study’s fieldwork took place over a 12-month period in 2012 and 2013, during which time individuals took the cognitive tests four times. The goal of these tests was to examine not only working memory and attention, but also how these changed over time. Noise measurements were taken in front of the 38 participating schools, as well as in playgrounds and inside classrooms, over the same time period. After a year of research, the data revealed that pupils who attended schools with greater levels of traffic noise progressed slower in working memory, complex working memory, and attention.
Higher average noise levels and more noise variation were both linked to worse student performance on all assessments in a study of external noise at schools. Inside the classroom, more variability in noise levels was linked to slower development on all cognitive assessments over the course of the year. Children exposed to higher average classroom noise levels over the course of the year, on the other hand, fared worse on the attention test than students in quieter classrooms, but not on the working memory assessments. This shows that noise peaks in the classroom are more detrimental to neurodevelopment than the average decibel level.
The researchers estimated the average noise level at each participant’s home using the city of Barcelona’s 2012 road traffic noise map. However, no link between home noise and cognitive development was found in this study. The study adds to the growing body of information on the effects of transportation on children’s cognitive development, which has been documented in both schools exposed to aeroplane noise and schools subjected to traffic-related air pollution. Further research on road traffic noise in other populations is needed to see if these preliminary findings can be generalised to other cities and situations.