UT community discuss how excess noise affect learning environment

Sara Johnson

Getting loud is fun at a football game but may not be the best idea in the classroom, according to an acoustics study on the effects of classroom noise on reading comprehension.

According to the study, which was published by London researchers in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, high levels of excess noise can negatively impact a student’s ability to complete reading comprehension and information processing tasks. Excess noise can be things such as off-topic talking, clattering chairs or unnecessary movement.

The researchers tested students in environments with different noise levels and then measured their performance on a reading comprehension test. The results showed that while students completed readings faster in an environment with more extraneous noise, they were less able to recall that information when tested.

Sandie Keerstock, a linguistics graduate student who works at the UT Sound Lab, said this kind of result can be explained by the way memories are formed in the brain.

“We have a limited amount of cognitive resources for attention and retention,” Keerstock said. “If you take away some of those resources because you’re trying to process noise, then you have less cognitive resources for memory encoding.”


The study showed that all of the participants’ performances were negatively affected at a noise level of 70 decibels, which can be compared to the noise made by a vacuum cleaner.

But this doesn’t mean all noise in classrooms is bad. According to research conducted at Colorado State University, some professors incorporate discussion and activity to increase engagement, which might benefit students with an auditory-learning style.

“Noise is a normal part of my class,” UT biology assistant professor Jennifer Fritz said. “It lets me know my students are learning the material.”

Nursing freshman Reshma Kurian said she often makes an effort to improve her concentration by picking study spaces with a noise level she feels she can concentrate best in.

“I like the top floor of the Austin Public Library,” Kurian said. “There’s this outside area with tables to work at. It’s not super quiet, but it’s not overwhelmingly loud.”

The study cited poor acoustic designs in schools as one motivation for conducting the research.

To maintain an optimal classroom environment and noise level, we should implement improvements to the classrooms themselves, Keerstock said.

“If you try to optimize how a classroom is built or how loud a teacher speaks, that helps people understand better or remember what you’re saying,” Keerstock said.