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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

The effects of background white noise on memory performance in inattentive school children

Göran BW Söderlund14*, Sverker Sikström2, Jan M Loftesnes3 and Edmund J Sonuga-Barke45

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Linguistics, Stockholm University, Sweden

2 Linné University, Växjö, Sweden

3 Sogn and Fjordane University College, Norway

4 University of Southampton, Dept. of Psychology, UK

5 Department of Experimental Clinical and Health Psychology, Ghent University, Belgium

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Behavioral and Brain Functions 2010, 6:55  doi:10.1186/1744-9081-6-55

Published: 29 September 2010



Noise is typically conceived of as being detrimental for cognitive performance; however, a recent computational model based on the concepts of stochastic resonance and dopamine related internal noise postulates that a moderate amount of auditive noise benefit individuals in hypodopaminergic states. On the basis of this model we predicted that inattentive children would be enhanced by adding background white noise while attentive children's performance would deteriorate.


Fifty-one secondary school pupils carried out an episodic verbal free recall test in two noise conditions. In the high noise condition, verb-noun sentences were presented during auditory background noise (white noise, 78 dB), and in the low noise condition sentences were presented without noise.


Exposure to background noise improved performance for inattentive children and worsened performance for attentive children and eliminated episodic memory differences between attentive and inattentive school children.


Consistent with the model, our data show that cognitive performance can be moderated by external background white noise stimulation in a non-clinical group of inattentive participants. This finding needs replicating in a larger sample using more noise levels but if replicated has great practical applications by offering a non-invasive way to improve school results in children with attentional problems.