Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

feeling fine

Research: Excess noise can hinder how youngsters learn

WASHINGTON

From the cacophony of day care to the buzz of TV and electronic toys, noise is more distracting to a child's brain than an adult's, and new research shows it can hinder how youngsters learn.

In fact, one of the worst offenders when a tot is trying to listen is other voices babbling in the background, researchers said recently at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"What a child hears in a noisy environment is not what an adult hears," said Dr. Lori Leibold of Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha, Neb.

That's a catch-22 in our increasingly noisy lives because "young children learn language from hearing it," said Dr. Rochelle Newman of the University of Maryland. "They have a greater need for understanding speech around them, but at the same time, they're less equipped to deal with it."

It's not their ability to hear. For healthy children, the auditory system is pretty well developed by a few months of age.

Consider how hard it is to carry on a conversation in a noisy restaurant. Researchers simulated that background in a series of experiments by playing recordings of people reading and talking while testing how easily children detected words they knew, such as "playground," when a new voice broke through the hubbub, or how easily they learned new words.

The youngest children could recognize one person's speech amid multiple talkers, but only at relatively soft noise levels, Newman said. Even the background noise during day care story time can be enough for tots to miss parts of what's read, she said.

It's not just a concern for toddlers and preschoolers. The ability to understand and process speech against competing background noise doesn't mature until adolescence, Leibold said.

Nor is the challenge just to tune out the background buzz. Brief sudden noises — someone coughs, a car horn blares — can drown out part of a word or sentence. An adult's experienced brain automatically substitutes a logical choice, Newman said.

"Young children don't do this. Their brain doesn't fill in the gaps," she said.

Children born prematurely may have an additional risk. When preemies spend a long time in an incubator, their brains get used to the "white noise" of the machine's fan — different from a full-term baby who develops hearing mom's voice in the womb and thus is wired to pay more attention to voices, said Dr. Amir Lahav of Harvard Medical School.

He had mothers of preemies record themselves singing lullabies or reading stories, and filtered them along with the sound of mom's heartbeat into the incubator three times a day when she wasn't otherwise visiting. The brain's auditory cortex became more developed in babies given that extra womb-like exposure compared with preemies with typical incubator care, Lahav found. Moreover, when those babies were big enough to leave the hospital, they paid more attention to speech, he said.

"Exposure to noises and sounds very early in life will spill over to affect how our brain is going to function," Lahav said.

Noise also is a special challenge for children with hearing loss, who may need technology beyond standard hearing aids to cope, Leibold said, describing special receivers that can, for example, transmit a teacher's voice directly to the ear.

The latest research has implications for classroom design, too, Leibold added, as the type of flooring or ceiling height can either soften natural noise or bounce it around.

But learning starts at home. University of Maryland child language specialist Nan Bernstein Ratner often has parents ask if they should stimulate a tot's environment with interactive toys and educational TV.

"We tend to think bustling environments and creating background noise is stimulating for kids," she said, but "what's stimulating on the part of the parent may not be for the child."

Consider these tips:

• Don't leave the TV, radio and other electronics on in the background.

• Speak clearly and make eye contact.

• Make sure tots see your face. They can pick up on mouth movements, Newman said.

• If a child is having school behavior problems, make sure being unable to hear in class isn't the problem.

Research: Excess noise can hinder how youngsters learn 02/18/16 [Last modified: Thursday, February 18, 2016 4:12pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. No. 21 USF Bulls roll over Temple to stay undefeated

    College

    TAMPA — They emerged from Raymond James Stadium's southwest tunnel on the 11-month anniversary of their public humiliation at Temple.

    Bulls tailback Darius Tice, who rushes for 117 yards, is elated by his 47-yard run for a touchdown in the second quarter for a 10-0 lead.
  2. Fennelly: USF thrashes Temple to stay unbeaten; too bad not many saw it in person

    College

    TAMPA

    No. 21 USF ran its record to 4-0 Thursday night with some payback against Temple, a 43-7 trouncing, no contest, as if anyone cares, at least judging by the paltry crowd at Raymond James Stadium. Where was everybody?

    Bulls cornerback Deatrick Nichols (3) celebrates with teammates after making a defensive play during the first half.
  3. Former Ray Tim Beckham's over being traded, or is he?

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — As the Rays reunited Thursday with Tim Beckham for the first time since he was dealt July 31 to Baltimore, it became very clear that not everything in assessing the trade is as it appears.

    Tim Beckham, here in action Monday against the Red Sox, has hit .310, with 10 homers and 26 RBIs since going to the Orioles.
  4. Bucs probe how to fix deep-ball chances missed vs. Bears

    Bucs

    TAMPA — It was only minutes after the Bucs had demolished the Bears 29-7 Sunday when quarterback Jameis Winston tried one final time to connect with receiver DeSean Jackson.

    QB Jameis Winston says he’s focused on the deep-ball chances to DeSean Jackson he missed in the opener: “We left a lot out there.”
  5. Rays journal: Ugly first inning dooms Andriese, Rays against Orioles (w/video)

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — Rays manager Kevin Cash said before Thursday's game that RHP Matt Andriese was among the pitchers who would most benefit from a strong finish to the season.

    Matt Andriese has a tough first: hits to four of first five batters, leading to three runs, the only ones he gives up in six innings