How does noise affect learning?


The impact of noise on learning can vary depending on an individual's state of alertness and the type of noise. Here are a few key insights shared by :

  1. Alertness and Type of Noise:

    • When highly alert, complete silence is typically the best environment for learning. This is because it minimizes distractions and allows for focused attention.
    • However, if you are feeling low in arousal, slightly sleepy or tired, having some background noise can help boost your alertness. Background noise activates the auditory and visual systems, which are part of the Salience network that scans the environment, raising the level of alertness and potentially aiding in learning 1.
  2. White Noise:

    • White noise, when played at a modest intensity (not too loud but audible), has been shown to enhance learning in adults by activating specific brain circuits related to attention and memory.
    • One study titled "Low Intensity White Noise Improves Performance in Auditory Working Memory Task, an fMRI Study" found that white noise could improve cognitive performance through mechanisms involving the dopaminergic pathways in the brain, which are crucial for motivation and cognitive control 2.
  3. Appropriate Use of White Noise:

    • White noise should not be too loud, as overly loud background noise can be distracting rather than helpful.
    • It's important to adjust the volume of white noise to a level that uplifts the cognitive state without overwhelming the listener 2.

In summary, while noise can be a distraction in some scenarios, under certain conditions and at appropriate volumes, it can also serve to enhance learning by increasing alertness and engaging the brain's learning and attention circuits.

Learning with Noise

Andrew explains how our level of alertness affects our ability to learn and how background noise can help elevate our autonomic arousal. He also discusses how our Salience network works and why some people feel anxious in environments with little clutter.

Huberman Lab

Optimize Your Learning & Creativity with Science-based Tools | Huberman Lab Podcast #8