Environmental Influence on Student Behavior and Achievement:


School design must take into consideration the reduction of undesirable background noises or the amplification of desired sounds. Noise can create sufficient interference with verbal instruction and hinder learning. Morgan (1917) reinforced this conclusion when he studied the effects of sound distraction on memory. He concluded that noise distraction interferes with learning of simple associations and that subjects were tenser while learning in noise. King and Marans (1979) asserted that excessive noise seems to affect handicapped students more than normal students. Glass (1985) and Cohen, Sheldon and Lezak (1977) indicated that unwanted noise reduced human energy and efficiency. Their findings also confirmed that unwanted noise can affect mental and emotional health of teachers and students.

To reinforce the idea of noise interfering with learning, Fitzroy and Reid (1963) conducted a study to determine the minimum acoustical separation necessary to permit a group or an individual teacher to work effectively. They found that school buildings would be completely acceptable for teaching and learning if built with noise reductions between classroom areas of 18 and 20 decibels, with classrooms near optimum reverberation periods and articulation indexes of .01 or less. Types of noise as well as the level of noise can affect learners. Kyzar (1977) attempted to determine at what point and to what degree noise interrupts or hampers the process of education. In this study, Flanders Interaction Analysis was utilized to measure patterns of verbal interactions between teachers and students. He concluded that excessive noise has a direct bearing on students' attention and progress. Hall (1952) studied the effects of background music on reading comprehension of 8th and 9th grade students. He found that increased accuracy in comprehension is an advantage of background music and that background music was most advantageous during early morning and after lunch periods when the students were settling down. He also concluded that students below average in achievement and intelligence appear to benefit from background music. Christie and Glickman (1980) found that children's performance on many classroom tasks will vary as a function of classroom noise levels. They concluded that 70 decibels of sound constitutes a noisy classroom while 40 decibels would be the likely measure of a quiet classroom.

Many exterior noises can affect student performance and achievement. Dixon (1953) analyzed some of the effects of acoustical conditioning of classrooms on the efficiency of verbal communication during the introduction of exterior noises. Results showed that external sounds had a detrimental effect on the verbal interaction between teacher and students. In the same way, Bronzaft and McCarthy (1975) conducted a study which indicated that New York city students were hampered in their reading skills by elevated noise levels. Students on the side of the building 220 feet from an elevated subway track lagged anywhere from 3 months to as much as 1 year behind their peers on the quiet side of the building. Cohens, Evans, Krantz and Stokols (1986) found that some children from noisy schools had higher blood pressure, less cognitive task success and greater feelings of helplessness. The students gave up more easily on tasks and exhibited greater distractibility from the task at hand.

Hawkins and Lilley (1992) contended that educational areas would be more effective for teaching and learning if reasonable effort was made to control sound. Thus, it seems that carpeting is a feature which would aid in controlling noise and increasing academic achievement. A study by Conrad and Gibbons (1963) at the Ohio State University was developed to determine how carpeting affects the total sonic environment and whether it has any effect on pupils in the metropolitan Columbus, Ohio area. It was found that students in the carpeted rooms showed greater mean yearly growth in achievement than pupils in non-carpeted rooms. It was also found that students in the carpeted classrooms experienced greater personality development. And finally, Cunliff (1967) conducted a survey to obtain teacher reaction to carpeting in the school. Questionnaires and interviews involving teachers, superintendents, and all certified personnel in a particular school district were administered. Results showed that before installation, 72% thought carpeting to be helpful to the instructional program and a year after installation, the percentage was increased to 78%. Carpeted floors were considered acoustically superior to resilient floors and also aesthetically preferable. Teacher reaction indicated the belief that the carpeted room is more conducive for learning.


Bonzaft, A.L. & McCarthy, D.P. (1975). The effects of elevated train noise on reading ability. Environment and Behavior, 7(6), 517-527.

Chrisite, D.J. & Glickman, C.D. (1980's). The effects of classroom noise on children: Evidence for sexual differences. Psychology in the Schools, 17(3), 405-408.

Cohen, S., Evans, G., Krantz, D.S., & Stokols, D. (1986). Behavior, Health, and Environmental Stress. New York: Plenum.

Conrad, M.J. & Gibbons, N.L. (1963). Carpeting and learning. Columbus, Ohio: Bureau of Education Research and Service.

Cunliff, D.D. (1967), Soft floor covering in the Los Angeles city school district. New York: American Carpet Institute.

Dixon, M.T. (1953). Comparing acoustical control and the efficiency of verbal communication. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Stanford University.

Fitzroy, D. & Reid, J.L. (1963). Acoustical environment of school buildings. New York: Educational Facilities Laboratory

Glass, K. 91985). Sonic environment. CEFPI Journal, 23(4), 8-10.

Hall, J.C. (1952). The effect of background music on the reading comprehension of two hundred seventy-eight eighth and ninth grade students. Journal of Educational Research, 45, 451-458.

Hawkins, H.L. & Lilley, H.E. (1992). CEFPI's guide for school facility appraisal. Columbus, Ohio: the Council of Educational Facility Planners International.

Kyzar, B.L. (1977). Noise pollution and schools: How much is too much? Council of Educational Facilities Planners Journal, 10-11.

King, J. & Marans, R.W. (1979). The physical environment and learning process. (Report No. 320-ST2). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Architectural Research Laboratory.

Morgan, J.B. (1917). The effect of sound distractions upon memory. American Journal of Psychology, 28, 191-208.district. New York: American Carpet Institute.

This summary was compiled by Elizabeth Jago and Ken Tanner

Posted: (April 1999)

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