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Year : 2022  |  Volume : 24  |  Issue : 115  |  Page : 199--214

Quantifying the Effect of Noise on Cognitive Processes: A Review of Psychophysiological Correlates of Workload

Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA), Dortmund, Germany

Correspondence Address:
Jan Grenzebach
BAuA, Friedrich-Henkel-Weg 1-25, 44149 Dortmund
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/nah.nah_34_22

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Noise is present in most work environments, including emissions from machines and devices, irrelevant speech from colleagues, and traffic noise. Although it is generally accepted that noise below the permissible exposure limits does not pose a considerable risk for auditory effects like hearing impairments. Yet, noise can have a direct adverse effect on cognitive performance (non-auditory effects like workload or stress). Under certain circumstances, the observable performance for a task carried out in silence compared to noisy surroundings may not differ. One possible explanation for this phenomenon needs further investigation: individuals may invest additional cognitive resources to overcome the distraction from irrelevant auditory stimulation. Recent developments in measurements of psychophysiological correlates and analysis methods of load-related parameters can shed light on this complex interaction. These objective measurements complement subjective self-report of perceived effort by quantifying unnoticed noise-related cognitive workload. In this review, literature databases were searched for peer-reviewed journal articles that deal with an at least partially irrelevant “auditory stimulation” during an ongoing “cognitive task” that is accompanied by “psychophysiological correlates” to quantify the “momentary workload.” The spectrum of assessed types of “auditory stimulations” extended from speech stimuli (varying intelligibility), oddball sounds (repeating short tone sequences), and auditory stressors (white noise, task-irrelevant real-life sounds). The type of “auditory stimulation” was related (speech stimuli) or unrelated (oddball, auditory stressor) to the type of primary “cognitive task.” The types of “cognitive tasks” include speech-related tasks, fundamental psychological assessment tasks, and real-world/simulated tasks. The “psychophysiological correlates” include pupillometry and eye-tracking, recordings of brain activity (hemodynamic, potentials), cardiovascular markers, skin conductance, endocrinological markers, and behavioral markers. The prevention of negative effects on health by unexpected stressful soundscapes during mental work starts with the continuous estimation of cognitive workload triggered by auditory noise. This review gives a comprehensive overview of methods that were tested for their sensitivity as markers of workload in various auditory settings during cognitive processing.


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