Different effects of adding white noise on cognitive performance of sub-, normal and super-attentive school children

Suzannah K. Helps*, Susan Bamford, Edmund J S Sonuga-Barke, Göran B W Söderlund

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Objectives: Noise often has detrimental effects on performance. However, because of the phenomenon of stochastic resonance (SR), auditory white noise (WN) can alter the "signal to noise" ratio and improve performance. The Moderate Brain Arousal (MBA) model postulates different levels of internal "neural noise" in individuals with different attentional capacities. This in turn determines the particular WN level most beneficial in each individual case-with one level of WN facilitating poor attenders but hindering super-attentive children. The objective of the present study is to find out if added WN affects cognitive performance differently in children that differ in attention ability.

Methods: Participants were teacher-rated super- (N= 25); normal- (N = 29) and sub-attentive (N= 36) children (aged 8 to 10 years). Two non-executive function (EF) tasks (a verbal episodic recall task and a delayed verbal recognition task) and two EF tasks (a visuo-spatial working memory test and a Go-NoGo task) were performed under three WN levels. The non-WN condition was only used to control for potential differences in background noise in the group testing situations.

Results: There were different effects of WN on performance in the three groups-adding moderate WN worsened the performance of super-attentive children for both task types and improved EF performance in sub-attentive children. The normal-attentive children's performance was unaffected by WN exposure. The shift from moderate to high levels of WN had little further effect on performance in any group.

Significance: The predicted differential effect of WN on performance was confirmed. However, the failure to find evidence for an inverted U function challenges current theories. Alternative explanations are discussed. We propose that WN therapy should be further investigated as a possible non-pharmacological treatment for inattention.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere112768
JournalPLoS One
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 13 Nov 2014


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