How does noise affect studying? My personal experience

When it comes to sound, every individual has unique preferences and needs.

“Everybody has their taste in noises as well as other matters; and sounds are quite innoxious, or most distressing, by their sort rather than their quantity.”

Jane Austen, Persuasion

Noise can negatively affect studying and academic performance. Exposure to loud and distracting noise can make it difficult to focus and concentrate, reducing productivity and performance. Conversely, certain types of noise, such as white noise, can enhance focus and productivity, while others, such as ambient noise, can foster creativity.

Ok, I’m confused. So how does noise affect studying? It depends.

From the serene flow of a waterfall to the lively buzz of a coffee shop, ambient sounds come in various forms and intensities. Yet what may be music to one person’s ears could be noise to another, all thanks to the variability of our unique brains.

But fret not! This variability provides an exciting chance for sound experimentation, enabling individuals to explore and find what works best for their specific preferences and needs. So, let’s get creative and have some auditory fun!

White noise and ADHD

You might be surprised to learn about the well-documented phenomenon known as stochastic resonance (SR), which has been shown to improve signal processing in various sensory modalities.

Stochastic resonance is a fascinating concept that demonstrates how adding a small amount of random noise to a signal can actually enhance its detectability and reliability. This means that the addition of white noise can have a positive impact on cognitive performance by helping our brains process information more efficiently. Recent research has demonstrated that exposure to white noise at a volume of 45dB can enhance certain aspects of cognitive performance, even in neurotypical individuals (The term “neurotypical” refers to individuals who do not have any neurodevelopmental disorders or conditions that affect their cognitive, social, or emotional functioning).

The proposed theory suggests that a certain level of neural noise in the brain can enhance our cognitive abilities. Low dopamine levels reduce neural noise and can lead to weaker cognitive performance. For instance, children and adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are thought to routinely have low dopamine levels.

To counteract this, researchers have explored the use of white noise as a tool to boost cognitive performance in children with ADHD. They exposed these children to loud white noise, up to 75 or even 85 decibels, to offset the presumed dopamine-related deficit in neural noise. The results have been promising, with reported cognitive benefits.

Overall, this theory and research suggest that finding the right balance of neural noise through techniques like white noise exposure could lead to improved cognitive function, particularly in neurodivergent individuals such as those with conditions like ADHD.

While a neurotypical brain is thought to have an optimal level of background neural noise, this new research suggests that even neurotypical individuals can benefit from a slight boost from quiet white noise. By boosting background neural noise, white noise may improve cognitive performance in neurotypical individuals. This means that white noise can potentially be leveraged as a form of cognitive enhancement…

So, the next time you need to study, consider downloading a white noise app or listening to one of these white noise youtube channels, to give your brain a little boost!

How does white noise sound? Have a listen:

Noise and Creativity. My experiment

Today, creativity is highly valued and sought after, especially in higher education.

After all, Albert Einstein did say:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”

Albert Einstien

While ambient noise has traditionally been thought to be a hindrance to creative performance, some studies suggest that it may actually be beneficial. However, there is still uncertainty surrounding the reasons for the inconsistent findings and whether individual differences between students account for the varied effects of noise on their performance.

As a neurodivergent person, I wanted to see how different types of background noise affected my cognitive abilities and creativity. While white noise should improve cognition, especially in people like me, and ambient noise should reduce concentration, I wanted to see if ambient noise could boost my creativity. As an experiment, I wrote two poems and illustrated two images, and the variables I used were white noise and ambient noise.

Writing with ambient noise

The first poem I wrote, “How I Found Freedom Amidst Metaphysical Specter,” was composed while listening to ambient noise or music I enjoy.

How I Found Freedom Amidst Metaphysical Specter

Hark! I swirl my goblet, tears shed,
Amidst the phantoms that haunt my head.
My locks dyed azure, clad in denim,
White sneakers, a symbol of freedom.
I reign supreme o’er thoughts, a slave.
To my desires, they ebb and wave,
A dichotomy of gendered form,
Metaphysics pondered, spirits swarm.
In the spill of wine, specters rise,
A spectral spectrum before my eyes,
And in the midst of this enigma,
I unearth a number beyond sigma.
Neither naught nor one, nor two’s ilk,
An ethereal entity of metaphysical silk.
Enraptured, I sing a song profound,
A monarch unchained; my essence unbound.

Writing with white noise

The second poem, “The Gasping Whale: A Haiku,” was written with white noise in the background at a volume level that I found comfortable.

The Gasping Whale: A Haiku

Cobalt shores, whale beached,
Gasping for air, in sorrow,
Existence or not.

Conclusion on writing with noise

Upon reflecting and subjectively analyzing my poems, I find it intriguing that the second poem, written in the traditional haiku form, delves into themes of struggle, mortality, and the meaning of existence through a vivid and thought-provoking image of a gasping whale. Despite feeling unfamiliar with the subject matter and form of the poem, I spent the most time on this poem and felt cognitively engaged while writing it. In my opinion, this poem is technically better than the first.

In contrast, the first poem uses figurative language and symbolism to share my journey of self-discovery and detachment, a common theme in my art. Although it seems more complex, it may be somewhat superficial and generic.

Nevertheless, poetry is an inherently subjective art form, and it is up to you, the reader, to interpret and draw conclusions regarding the effects of white noise on cognitive performance and ambient noise on creativity.

Illustrating with ambient noise

Illustration created while listening to ambient noise

I created this image in an environment with ambient noise, which made me feel less constrained and more playful. I used colors intuitively, and although it may not appear visually superior to the following image (created while listening to white noise), in my opinion, it has better emotional appeal and is more intriguing.

Illustrating with white noise

Illustration created while listening to white noise

This image is more technically advanced, and that required me to focus. Surprisingly, the image feels foreign to me, much like the haiku I wrote. It contains subtle details that I would typically overlook, but upon reflection, I realized I concentrated better while creating it.

Conclusions on illustrating with noise

Of course, this experiment is very limited, since I was the only subject involved, but these findings may confirm, to some extent, the theory that white noise may enhance cognitive abilities, while ambient noise can help with creativity.


There is no denying that noise has an effect on us, not only physically, but also intellectually. It also seems clear that different noises have the power to affect us in different ways, and therefore, even though generally speaking, noise is detrimental to our academic performance, there seems to be a narrow great area where one might find a certain type of noise that might actually enhance our abilities, at least for some of us, for some particular tasks.

I encourage you to experiment with yourself as I did. But remember to be honest. The fact that you might enjoy listening to music does not necessarily mean it will help you perform better.

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Sheridan Walter is a medical doctor passionate about advancing the well-being of individuals and communities. With a master's degree in applied ethics, Sheridan enjoys exploring complex issues related to healthcare and social justice and is committed to engaging in critical dialogue to promote positive change.

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