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Psychol Bull. 2011 Jul;137(4):682-707. doi: 10.1037/a0023987.

Noise effects on human performance: a meta-analytic synthesis.

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Performance Research Laboratory, Departmentof Psychology, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL 32816, USA.


Noise is a pervasive and influential source of stress. Whether through the acute effects of impulse noise or the chronic influence of prolonged exposure, the challenge of noise confronts many who must accomplish vital performance duties in its presence. Although noise has diffuse effects, which are shared in common with many other chronic forms of stress, it also exerts its own specific influences on various forms of cognitive and motor response. We present a quantitative evaluation of these influences so that their harmful effects can be mitigated, their beneficial effects exploited, and any residual effects incorporated and synthesized into selection, training, and design strategies to facilitate human performance capacities. Predictions of single and joint moderator effects were made on the basis of major theories of noise and performance, specifically those explanations based on arousal, masking, or cognitive-resource mechanisms. These predictions were tested through moderator analyses of effects as a function of task type, performance measure, noise type and schedule, and the intensity and duration of exposure. Observed outcome effects (797 effect sizes derived from 242 studies) varied as a function of each of these moderators. Collective findings identified continuous versus intermittent noise, noise type, and type of task as the major distinguishing characteristics that moderated response. Mixed evidence was obtained for the traditional arousal and masking explanations for noise effects. The overall pattern of findings was most consistent with the maximal adaptability theory, a mental-resource-based explanation of stress and performance variation.

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