Q: Does white noise really help you concentrate?

Q: Does white noise really help you concentrate?

Asked by Scott


Karen’s thoughts:

Many studies have shown auditory white noise to be an effective means of improving concentration among individuals of all age groups — even monkies. White noise helps with higher-order cognitive faculties and bolsters one’s attention span, especially during hypodopaminergic states. Research has been published in Behavioral and Brain Functions, NeuroReport, The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, among other peer-reviewed scientific journals.

NASA’s Staal (2004) reports no findings on the effects of “true white noise”, but states “individuals tend to habituate to continuous noise over time, resulting in gradually improved performance” and “it has been suggested that intermittent noise generally seems to evoke a greater negative reaction to performance than continuous noise”.

Soderlund, Sikstrom, Loftesnes, & Barke (2010) found that exposure to background “true white noise” improved performance for inattentive children during a verbal recall test.

Soderlund, Sikstrom, & Smart (2007), states “the most intriguing result in the present study is the positive effect of white noise on performance for the ADHD children.” The “Moderate Brain Arousal” model suggests that the endogenous (neural) noise level in children with ADHD is sub-optimal, and that moderate levels of auditory white noise boosts cognitive performance.

Carlson, Rama, Artchakov, & Linnankoski (1997) found that Mozart’s music, when played before the testing of a delayed response task given to monkeys, had no positive effect on the monkeys’ performance. During the task, Mozart’s music impaired the monkeys’ performance, whereas white noise improved it. Listening to background white noise resulted in fewer errors. They concluded that “it is suggested that complex music may serve as distraction during tasks requiring attentiveness. White noise, on the other hand, may protect from any distraction during testing and thus improve the performance.” Although this study was conducted on monkeys, they are our nearest genetic relatives — so this study correlates well to how we (homo sapiens) respond to white noise when trying to concentrate.

Cook A, Bradley-Johnson S, Johnson CM (2013) states “headphones plus white noise were associated with decreases in off-task behavior relative to baseline and headphones-only (no white noise) control conditions” for three students, thus supporting the notion of white noise providing the cumulative effect of increased concentration for singular tasks.

And because “true pink noise” or “true brown noise” such as Victoria Falls completely masks the sounds of all other audible distractions around the headphone-clad listener, the allocation of otherwise additional attentional resources is fully redistributed to the habituated sound of the white/pink/brown noise, resulting in a psychosomatic sense of silence.

So… does white noise really help you concentrate? Depends on the volume. If the white noise is too loud, or too quiet, it can be decremental to one’s focus. However — if played at a moderate volume, or at a volume matched to the peak of your individual stochastic resonance curve, white noise can be an immediately effective concentration aid.