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Common Traffic Noise Found Harmful to Children in Study

July 2001

Children living in noisy areas could be subject to stress and possibly serious health implications, according to a study by Cornell University environmental psychologist Gary Evans and several European co-authors. Even low-level, but chronic, traffic noise can cause stress and raise blood pressure in children, the study found.

Researchers compared two groups of Austrian fourth-graders with similar backgrounds. About half the children lived in neighborhoods with noise below 50dB and half in areas with noise about 60dB. They reported that subjects in noisier communities showed marginally higher resting systolic blood pressure, greater heart rate reactivity to a test and higher overnight cortisol levels – signs of “modestly elevated physiological stress.”

“We found that even low-level noise can be a stressor because it elevated psychophysiological factors, triggers more symptoms of anxiety and nervousness when the children are stressed by taking a test and can diminish motivation,” said Evans. His previous work includes the effects of airport noise on children and office noise on workers.

“Anything that increases blood pressure has negative implications for long-term health effects,” says Peter Lercher, one of the co-authors. The researchers plan to monitor the children and their noise exposure for extended health impacts.

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