CHICAGO • In his book "The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want," Garret Keizer writes: "Noise is not the most important problem in the world. Compared to the disasters of famine, war, and global climate change, the existence of 'unwanted sound' hardly counts as a problem at all."
Of course noise doesn't compare to all those disasters, but to me, it's still a huge deal. As a person who has practically become a hermit because of the sound pollution permeating restaurants, coffee shops, clothing stores, public gathering places and former havens of quiet like the neighborhood library, I hope that Keizer's assertion that noise "rarely emerges as a public issue" soon becomes untrue.
Keizer, whose book could be read as a call to arms for quieting our far too noisy world, would surely be gratified to learn that science is finally understanding the impact that noise has on what he calls "the weakest of us" — "a set of members whose only common features are their humanity and their lack of clout. [This] list will include children (some of whom, according to the World Health Organization, receive more noise at school than workers from an eight-hour work day at a factory)."
Indeed, in a paper just posted to the website of the journal Child Development, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison report finding that the presence of background noise in the home or at school makes it more difficult for toddlers to learn new words.
Prior research on the impact of environmental noise on children has suggested that too much of it can affect children both cognitively and psycho-physiologically, which manifests itself as increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol and a faster heart rate as well as poorer school performance.
The new research, however, focused specifically on word learning in the noisy environments children may inhabit at home and school.