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Noise is not a nuisance: Noise helps memory performance in unruly children

Noise as background sounds helps children with Attention Deficit and Hyeractivity Disorder (ADHD) to concentrate.

This is shown in new research at Stockholm University. A study soon to be published in the scientific journal Psychological Review, and serving as the basis of a new dissertation, shows that concentration and memory are improved for such children when they listen to auditory noise while learning.

“The discovery is surprising, since previous research has indicated that children with ADHD are easily disturbed in distracting environments,” says Göran Söderlund, a former teacher, today a doctoral student at the Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, who performed this research, together with Associate Professor Sverker Sikström of Lund University, also in Sweden.

A control group of children without ADHD nevertheless performed better in silence. The researchers explain the difference in how noise affects the memory by pointing to how the signal substance dopamine controls the brain’s activity. Children with ADHD have a low level of dopamine and therefore have low brain activity. Noise serves to stimulate the brain just enough for it to function better. Children without ADHD, on the other hand, have considerably more dopamine and higher brain activity. For these children, noise can even be damaging, since their brain is disturbed by too much irrelevant stimulation, which lowers their ability to concentrate and remember things.

A follow-up study shows that the positive effects of noise are not limited to children with ADHD but also help normal schoolchildren who are somewhat below average. At the same time, this study showed that high-achievement children performed less well in the presence of noise. This is also explained by the fact that below-average children normally have lower levels of dopamine than high-achievers.

“The conclusion is that noise is generally taken to raise low dopamine levels, thereby improving concentration and school achievement in children with ADHD but also for below-average achievers in general,” says Göran Söderlund.

“The conclusions we draw from our model are actually relatively easy to transfer to practical situations. The model helps us understand children with concentration problems and serves as a simple tool to adapt the school environment to children with ADHD.”

“It provides a scientific basis for treatment of a problem complex linked to concentration difficulties, as in ADHD, and can be a complement to pharmacological treatment,” says Göran Söderlund.

Low dopamine levels are one of several characteristics of ADHD, but they also occur in Parkinson’s disease and in normal aging. Other patient groups with memory problems may also benefit from these findings.

Göran Söderlund will also be submitting his thesis to the Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, based on the research behind the article. His doctoral dissertation. Noise Improves Cognitive Performance in Children with Dysfunctional Dopaminergic Neurotransmission, will be publicly defended at the Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, on September 21, 2007.

Maria Erlandsson | alfa
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