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Silence De-Stresses the Brain: Noise Affects the Mind's Processing Abilities

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The human brain does not function optimally in society’s noise-filled environment. The brain, like the body, needs rest to function, and that comes with silence. A recent study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience discovered that the brain is able to integrate both internal and external information into a “conscious workspace” when resting. Constant distractions and noises can detract from the brain’s ability to process critical information.

Noise also elevates stress hormone levels within the brain. Research published earlier in Psychological Science examined the effects that the relocation of the main Munich airport, in Germany, had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, researcher and professor of human ecology at Cornell University, notes that when exposed to constant noise, children develop a stress response that causes them to ignore it. The study’s subjects tuned out both harmful sounds and stimuli that they should be paying attention to, including speech. Silence has the opposite effect, releasing tension in brain and body.

Exposure to chronic noise can also hinder children’s cognitive development, according to a study from the World Health Organization and the European Commission Joint Research Centre; this includes language skills and reading ability.

To help counter modern noise pollution, attention restoration theory suggests that individuals placed in environments with lower levels of sensory input can recover some of the cognitive abilities they have lost.


This article appears in the November 2016 issue of Natural Awakenings.

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