Effects of meaningful or meaningless noise on psychological impression for annoyance and selective attention to stimuli during intellectual task

Takahiro Tamesue – tamesue@yamaguchi-u.ac.jp
Yamaguchi University
1677-1 Yoshida, Yamaguchi
Yamaguchi Prefecture 753-8511

Popular version of poster 4aPPa24, “Effects of meaningful or meaningless noise on psychological impression for annoyance and selective attention to stimuli during intellectual task”
Presented Thursday morning, December 1, 2016
172nd ASA Meeting, Honolulu
Open offices that make effective use of limited space and encourage dialogue, interaction, and collaboration among employees are becoming increasingly common. However, productive work-related conversation might actually decrease the performance of other employees within earshot — more so than other random, meaningless noises. When carrying out intellectual activities involving memory or arithmetic tasks, it is a common experience for noise to cause an increased psychological impression of “annoyance,” leading to a decline in performance. This is more apparent for meaningful noise, such as conversation, than it is for other random, meaningless noise. In this study, the impact of meaningless and meaningful noises on selective attention and cognitive performance in volunteers, as well as the degree of subjective annoyance of those noises, were investigated through physiological and psychological experiments.

The experiments were based on the so-called “odd-ball” paradigm — a test used to examine selective attention and information processing ability. In the odd-ball paradigm, subjects detect and count rare target events embedded in a series of repetitive events. To complete the odd-ball task it is necessary to regulate attention to a stimulus. In one trial, subjects had to count the number of times the infrequent target sounds occurred under meaningless or meaningful noises over a 10 minute period. The infrequent sound — appearing 20% of the time—was a 2 kHz tone burst; the frequent sound was a 1 kHz tone burst. In a visual odd-ball test, subjects observed pictures flashing on a PC monitor as meaningless or meaningful sounds were played to both ears through headphones. The most infrequent image was 10 x 10 centimeter-squared red image; the most frequent was a green square. At the end of the trial, the subjects also rated their level of annoyance at each sound on a seven-point scale.

During the experiments, the subjects brain waves were measured through electrodes placed on their scalp. In particular, we look at what is called, “event-related potentials,” very small voltages generated in the brain structures in response to specific events or stimuli that generate electroencephalograph waveforms. Example results, after appropriate averaging, of wave forms of event-related potentials under no external noise are shown in Figure 1. The so-called N100 component peaks negatively about 100 milliseconds after the stimulus and the P300 component positive peaks positively around 300 milliseconds after a stimulus, related to selective attention and working memory. Figure 2 and 3 show the results of event-related potentials for infrequent sound under the meaningless and meaningful noise. N100 and P300 components are smaller in amplitude and longer in latency because of the meaningful noise compared to the meaningless noise.


Figure 1. Averaged wave forms of evoked Event-related potentials for infrequent sound under no external noise.


Figure 2. Averaged wave forms of evoked Event-related potentials for infrequent sound under meaningless noise.


Figure 3. Averaged wave forms of auditory evoked Event-related potentials under meaningful noise.

We employed a statistical method called, “principal component analysis” to identify the latent components. Results of statistical analysis, where four principal components were extracted as shown in Figure 4. Considering the results, where component scores of meaningful noise was smaller than other noise conditions, meaningful noise reduces the component of event-related potentials. Thus, selective attention to cognitive tasks was influenced by the degree of meaningfulness of the noise.



Figure 4. Loadings of principal component analysis

Figure 5 shows the results for annoyance in the auditory odd-ball paradigms. These results demonstrated that the subjective experience of annoyance in response to noise increased due to the meaningfulness of the noise. The results revealed that whether the noise is meaningless or meaningful had a strong influence not only on the selective attention to auditory stimuli in cognitive tasks, but also the subjective experience of annoyance.


Figure 5. Subjective experience of annoyance (Auditory odd-ball paradigms)

That means that when designing sound environments in spaces used for cognitive tasks, such as the workplace or schools, it is appropriate to consider not only the sound level, but also meaningfulness of the noise that is likely to be present. Surrounding conversations often disturb the business operations conducted in such open offices. Because it is difficult to soundproof an open office, a way to mask meaningful speech with some other sound would be of great benefit for achieving a comfortable sound environment.


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