We are surrounded by sound. From coworker chitchat to the beeping of traffic outside to that tinny trace of music coming from a fellow commuter's earbuds, we often don't consider the noise that makes up our daily environments. But the truth is that the distant jackhammers, incessant elevator bells, and even the whistling and humming of the people around us can have a real effect on our health and wellness.
As pioneering noise researcher and environmental psychologist Arline Bronzaft, Ph.D., of the City University of New York has said, noise is in the ear of the beholder. “While the ear picks up the sound waves and sends it to the temporal lobe for interpretation, it’s the higher senses of the brain that determine whether that sound is unwanted, unpleasant, or disturbing.”
Read on to learn more about how noise affects your well-being.
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Noise Can Make You Less Productive at Work
Maria Konnikova revealed in a recent The New Yorker article that 70 percent of offices have an open floor plan. And that, of the many health drawbacks to this architectural trend (including an increased spread of illness and a lack of a sense of control over one's environment), the most unfortunate result of open offices is the way sound causes a drop in productivity.
Researchers have found that the particular sound mix of many open-plan offices inhibits employees' abilities to recall information and perform basic tasks, like arithmetic. Rather than simple distraction, the noise of an open office causes actual stress. In a lab study of professional women in which open office-level noise was simulated, researchers found that workers' epinephrine levels were higher than in the control—indicating some stimulation of the "fight or flight" response. The participants subsequently were asked to complete a series of unsolvable puzzles. Those in the stressed group made fewer attempts to solve them, indicating reduced motivation. [Tweet this fact!]