The Effects of Noisy Children on Gender Differences in Stress
The inspiration for this research study came from the principal investigator’s real life experiences in a child care setting. The principal investigator observed, while working at a child care center, that stress levels of teachers seemed to increase as the noise from the children increased. A typical day at this particular child care center would begin around 8:30 a.m. and would end at 5:30 p.m. The center was an open atmosphere with three main age groups (3, 4, and 5 years old) in one big room separated only by partitions, and three younger age groups (birth, 1, and 2 years) that were housed in their own rooms. The partitions were approximately 5 feet tall and allowed for conversation among teachers when needed. The openness of the child care center allowed for an abundance of noise to be spread throughout the day. Noise was usually loud and constant. By the end of the day teachers seemed tired, grumpy, annoyed, stressed, and exhausted. Also during the day when the noise was the loudest, teachers displayed more symptoms and expressions of discomfort and stress. After noticing this trend throughout two years of teaching, it is apparent to the researcher that noise has an impact on how individuals feel emotionally, cognitively, and physically.
Noise is defined as, “a sound, especially a loud, unpleasant sound” (Goldman, J. L., 2000, p. 218). Westman and Walters (1981) take a biological approach for the definition of noise, “In information processing terms, noise is sound that overloads the central nervous system… changes in this state can be detected by the electroencephalogram”(p. 295). Anyone who works in a child care setting knows that the auditory sensations presented each day at work fits well with the definition of noise. Noise is ever present in a child care setting; from the cries of an infant, to the pounding of toys, running, shouting, and the ever present screeching of the word, “NO!” Children use “noise” to express their feelings, needs, and emotions. At times these needs are all expressed at once, which can cause high level of noise. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (2008), states that too much noise can cause stress and even stress headaches. This noise has an auditory impact on our body physically, thus we experience physical stress.
The Webster’s New Pocket Dictionary, (2000) states that stress is, “Strain or pressure”. Stress is something that occurs in most individuals lives on a daily basis. In day to day life people must deal with several different types of stressors. Van Gemmert and Van Galen (1997) classified daily stress into different categories, “When conducting human performance studies stress related issues are usually classified into one of three categories: emotional stress, cognitive stress, and physical stress,” (p.1299). Emotional stress can be caused by a sudden or prolonged disturbance in ones’ life. Emotional stress may be caused by the death of a loved one, a separation, a divorce, or even the loss of a job. Prolonged emotional stress may greatly affect an individual and may eventually lead to depression. Cognitive stress according to Van Gemmert and Van Galen (1997) is “the most common stressor involved when humans try to accomplish real life tasks because most task involve multifaceted task aspects” (p. 1299). When one is given a specific task, one must think about the steps or processes required in a task. Large, difficult, or prolonged tasks may cause an individual cognitive stress. Although emotional and cognitive stressors are very important in human performance studies, the focus of the current study will be on physical stress. Physical stress may come in the form of “auditory noise, disturbed dark and light rhythms, and air pollution,” (Van Gemmert & Van Galen, 1997, p. 1299). This study will focus solely on auditory noise and its effects on gender differences in stress.
Researchers seem to have some conflicting views on whether or not noise alone, regardless of gender differences, has an effect on stress. Most studies support the hypothesis that noise does have some effect on stress, but a minority of other studies found data that seems to be ambiguous. A major study by Frankenhaeuser and Lundberg (1977) found that results on simple math and arithmetic problems were indeed impacted in the presence of noise, (as cited in Tafalla & Evans, 1997). A study by Welford (1973) found that, “humans speed up performance during loud auditory noise at the cost of making more errors” (as cited in Van Gemmert, & Van Galen, 1997, p. 1300). Another study conducted by Cantrell (1981) showed that stress affects individuals on a physiological level. Cantrell exposed young men to loud noise for several weeks and found increases in plasma cortisol and blood cholesterol. It was also found that men who were exposed to loud noise for a prolonged number of weeks had troubled disturbed sleep (as cited in Westman & Walters, 1981). These studies suggest that noise does have an impact on stress levels.
When one begins to discuss noise and stress, one must discuss the element of annoyance. Annoyance directly related to noise is, “an unpleasant emotion experienced as irritability and is a form of anger or hostility related to the state of the individual in a particular social and environmental context” (Westman & Walters, 1981, p. 302). In the current research study some participants may find the noise made by children to be annoying. Participants may find the noises to be unnecessary, which may provoke a feeling of annoyance. If a participant feels annoyed, this may contribute to their perceived stress level. The participant will rate his or her perceived feeling of stress or annoyance on the first and last questions of the test. A Likert scale ranging from, not at all stress to very stressed, will be used.
A 2007 Noise and Vibration Bulletin highlighted an issue in Tokyo, Japan where an ill, elderly woman claimed that children playing in a nearby fountain were stressful and annoying. The woman “claimed that the voices of the children playing in the water disturbed her and caused her physical pain,” (Tokyo Park, 2007, p. 306). The woman took the case to her city council where it was ruled that the fountain must be turned off. The city council tested the decibel level of the children at play and found that it exceeded the decibel limit for the city. “Some people criticized the woman because no other neighbors had complained, but it the end the ruling was upheld and the fountain was left off” (p. 308). It is clear that the noise of children have an impact on not only individuals but the communities in which they live as well.
For one to be stressed by noise, one must have the ability to use their sense of hearing. One of the main functions of hearing is to alert or warn individuals, and in this process emotions and actions are evoked (Westman & Walters, 1981). The hypothesis of this study examines whether gender differences exist when they are exposed to noises made by children while taking the sample Missouri Drivers Test. Because hearing evokes emotion and actions, men and women might react to stress differently. Support comes from neuropsychological studies which have found that the concept of noise may explain differences of performance between the cerebral hemispheres (Van Gemmert & Van Galen, 1997). “A recent discovery has shown that when given the same task, females may use both hemispheres, while male brain activity is limited to one side. For example, if men and women are given a task to define words, men appear to use only their left hemisphere while women use both,” (Kimura, 1996, p. 3). Since men and women may use their cerebral hemispheres in different ways, and noise may also affect difference of performance between cerebral hemispheres, it may be found that a difference exists between genders.
When people usually think of a highly emotional person between males and females, females tend to be thought of first. Individuals may be inclined to conclude that women would react more strongly to noise made by children. If women tend to be more emotional, then when a noise is paired with an emotion a woman may have a stronger reaction to that noise. When individuals think of noise made by children they may also come to the conclusion that women who are mothers should be experienced, motherly and nurturing and not react to noise as a stressor. Many aspects of gender, socialization, and even anatomy should be considered when analyzing noise and its effects on gender difference in stress.
“Past theories about gender and coping with stress have proposed that men and women cope with stress in different ways,” (Eaton & Bradley, 2008, p. 97). “Men tend to confront problems directly or to deny to avoid their existence, whereas women have more emotional responses in stress and prefer to seek support from family and friends” (Eaton & Bradley, 2008, p. 97). It can be seen in everyday life that men and women tend to cope with stress in different manners. Men tend to shut down, they want to be alone, and they do not feel the need to talk. Women, on the other hand, tend to be very emotional and seek the presence of friends or family so they can talk about the stressors in their lives.
Highlighted in the above introduction are definitions, causes, reactions, and potential effects of stress. Although research supports that noise does affect stress, and that men and women cope with stress differently, it is unclear whether or not noise made by children provokes different stress reactions in males and females. This study plans to examine the differences between men and women and their reaction to noise when placed in a somewhat stressful situation.
The participants of this study consisted of 40 college students, 20 males and 20 females, attending the University of Central Missouri (UCM). Participants had to: 1) be 18 or older and 2) had to be enrolled and attending UCM. Participation in this study was completely voluntary.
The materials used in this study consisted of a 51 question test and a recording of children making noise. The 51 question test consisted of 5 demographic questions, one pre and one post level of stress scale, and a 44-question sample of the Missouri Drivers’ License Test. The 5 demographic questions were used to examine background information that might have influenced the results of the test. For example, if one student did not have a driver’s license or had never driven a car their results on the Missouri Drivers License test would be expected to be lower, regardless of gender, compared to someone who had a driver’s license. A pre and post measure of stress was added to assess the participants perceived level of stress before and after the Drivers test. The pre and post measure of stress consisted of one question at the beginning of the test, and one question at the end of the test. These questions asked the participant to rate their perceived level of stress on a Likert scale from one to five. This information was used to examine whether if the number of questions missed was a reflection of how the students perceived their own stress levels.
The remaining 44 questions were from a sample of the Missouri Drivers License test. These multiple choice questions were a measure of basic knowledge relating to driving knowledge and skills. Questions ranged from the meaning of traffic lights, to the cost of a Missouri Permit. The Missouri Drivers License test was chosen in hopes of using a gender neutral test. This test was selected because anyone who has a Missouri Drivers License has taken this test, so a majority of students will have previous exposure to similar test questions. It was thought that since many students have already taken this test, the test would be less stressful and the true stress will be inflicted mainly by the noise made by children. Data will be collected on the number of items missed on each test. The process that was used was based off a previous study conducted by Welford (1973) which found that, “humans speed up performance during loud auditory noise at the cost of making more errors” (as cited in Tafalla & Evans, 1997, p. 1300). The test was not recorded in this study, however, it is thought that if the participants feel anxious when they hear the noises made by children, they may rush to finish the test and as a result may mark incorrect answers.
The final material was a recording of children making noise. The recording consisted of sounds of a baby crying and children playing. The ages of the children were from approximately infant to elementary school. The sound effects were alternated in different orders on a CD which lasted approximately 40 minutes.
The principal investigator posted flyers and registered with UCM’s Sona system to advertise and recruit participants. Participants were rewarded for their time, for every 10 minutes of participation participants were awarded 1 point in the Sona System; four points for this study. Students were able to withdrawal from the study at any point in time.
Participants were to enter research room 1352 and instructed to sit at a desk. When the participants were settled and comfortable they were given an informed consent form. At this time participants were instructed to read the informed consent and notify the researcher when the form had been signed. After the form was signed and the informed consent was collected by the researcher, the participants were handed a page of instructions, the test packet, and a blank sheet of notebook paper on which they were instructed to write their answers. Participants were also handed a set of headphones and were instructed to put them on as soon as they were ready to begin the test. The students were instructed to not remove their headphones until the test was completed, not to change the volume of the sound, and to read and to answer the test questions to the best of their ability. As soon as the participants began the test, the researcher started the recording of the children. Participants were given as much time as they needed to complete the test. The researcher stayed in the classroom but found ways to look busy so as not to make participants feel like they were being watched. After participants finished the test, the researcher collected all data and placed them in a sealed manila envelope. Participants were then handed a debriefing form that described how their participation in the study would be used in examining whether the researcher’s hypothesis was supported. Participants were thanked by the researcher for their participation and dismissed. The current study did not have a control group; this will further be explained in the discussion section of the paper.
The results from the study indicated that males averaged a score of 36.65 on the Missouri Divers License Test while females scored an average of 35.75 on the test. Males and females on a measure of pre perceived stress reported the following average scores; 1.70 for males and 1.80 for females on a 5 point Likert scale. Males and females on a measure of post perceived stress reported an average both reported the following average scores: 2.40 for males and 2.20 for females on a 5 point Likert scale. Data was analyzed comparing gender with the average score on the test using an independent samples t-test. The independent samples t-test showed that there was not a significant difference between gender and scores on the Sample Missouri Drivers test, t (40) =.870, p > .05. Between-subjects ANOVA also showed no significant difference in pre and post measures of stress between the genders, f (40) = .114, p >.05 for the pre measures of stress, and f (40) =.345, p >.05 for the post measures of stress.
The purpose of this study was to determine if gender differences in stress existed when students were exposed to noises made by children. The hypothesis of this study was that there would be a difference between males and females and how stressed they were after being exposed to noises made by children. The data did not support the hypothesis; the data showed that there was not a statistically significant difference between overall scores or levels of stress between males and females. Although data did not show a significant difference between males and females, there was a statistically significant finding regarding pre and post measures of perceived stress. The data showed a significant difference for both genders combined when comparing pre and post measures of stress, f (40) =139.371, p<.000 for the pre test and f(40)=182.745,p <.000, for the post test. The data show that although there was not a statistically significant difference between males and females scores, both males and females scored statistically different from the pre and post perceived levels of stress.
Although the hypothesis of this study was not accepted, further studies may delve deeper into the question of gender differences in stress when exposed to noises made by children. Future studies may want to include a control group for each gender; this may help support the hypothesis at hand. A measure with more in-depth demographic questions such as, “Do you have children? How many children do you have? Do you work with children? What state are you from?” These questions may help future studies better understand the impact of noise made by children and stress. Future studies are also advised to have a back up CD player on hand, as the researcher had to deal with a CD malfunction before a study began.
Eaton, R. J., & Bradley, G. (2008). The role of gender and negative affectivity in stress appraisal and coping selection [Electronic version]. International Journal of Stress Management, 15, 94-115.
Goldman, J. L. (2000). Webster’s new pocket dictionary. Cleveland, Ohio: Wiley Publishing, Inc.
Kimura, Doreen. (1996). Understanding the human brain. Children’s Britannica, Jennifer Cox, Ed., Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. 136-141.Retrieved February 11, 2009, from http://www.sfu.ca/~dkimura/articles/britan.htm
Tafalla, R. J., & Evan, G.W. (1997). Noise, physiology and human performance: The potential role of effort [Electronic Version]. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 2, 148- 155.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. (2008). Noise and hearing loss. Retrieved November 4, 2008, from It's a Noisy Planet Web site: http://noisyplanet.nidcd.nih.gov/parents/athome.htm
Tokyo park [Electronic version]. (2007, November). Noise and Vibration Bulletin. 306.
Van Gemmert W. A., & Van Galen, G. P. (1997). Stress, neuromotor noise, and human performance: A theoretical perspective [Electronic Version]. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 23, 1299-1313.
Westman, J. C., & Walter, J. R. (1981). Noise and stress, a comprehensive approach [Electronic Version]. Environmental Health Perspective, 4, 291-309.
Pre and Post Measures of Perceived Stress for Males and Females
Std. Error Mean
Pre Test M
Post Test M
Figure 1. Average number of items correct for males and females out of 44 questions for the Sample Missouri Drivers License Test.