Noisy Airplanes Affect Learning

June 10, 2005

Is your school located near an airport? Do planes fly frequently over your school? Is it sometimes difficult to hear and concentrate because of these planes? If you answered "yes" to these questions, your learning may be affected. New research shows that airplane noise can impair reading and memory abilities of young students.

An international team of researchers from England, Sweden, Spain and the Netherlands studied 2,844 children (ages 9-10 years old) who lived near major airports in Spain (Barajas), England (Heathrow) and the Netherlands (Schiphol). The researchers found that as airplane noise around a school increased, students' reading comprehension scores decreased. Airplane noise was also related to lower scores on a memory recognition test. There was no relationship between road (cars, trucks, motorcycles) traffic noise and reading or memory test scores and the data were not related to the socioeconomic status of students.

These results suggest that airplane noise may affect the ability of children to learn in school. The scientists believe that airplane noise may distract students from their schoolwork and lead to problems with reading and memory. For example, children might tune out unwanted noise such as that from an airplane, but in doing so, they will also pay less attention to their teacher. Planes flying over a school may also disrupt a teacher's ability to communicate with students.

Effective ways to fight airplane noise are needed. An obvious solution would be to locate schools away from the flight path of planes. If schools are already near schools, perhaps the flight path of planes can be changed or limited to hours when school is not in session. If such solutions are not possible, schools should look for ways to insulate their schools to keep unwanted sounds out.

References and more information:

  1. Stansfeld, S.A., Berglund, B., Clark, C., Lopez-Barrio, I., Fischer, P., Ohrstrom, E., Haines, M.M., Head, J., Hygge, S., van Kamp, I. and Berry, B.F. Aircraft and road traffic noise and children's cognition and health: a cross-national study. Lancet, 365:1942-1949, 2005.
  2. Have WISE EARS! for Life
  3. Noise-induced Hearing Loss

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