When we are trying to study and remember things we have been told that we should get rid of all background distractions. Noise has been thought of as detrimental to memory and learning. A recent study seems to say that some people actually can benefit from white noise to enhance their memory and improve their attention.

If you were to get a picture of white noise in your head it would be similar to what happens to your television when you lose your signal and all you have is a picture of “white snow” and a fuzzy noise that seems irritating to most of us.

Technically, white noise is a random signal that contains equal power within a fixed bandwidth frequency at any center. White noise gets it name from “white light” where the color density is spread out over that area that you see in a way the your eye’s three color receptors (cones) are equally stimulated. White noise is basically the same, only with sound. The frequencies are so spread out that you only hear one level – the white noise. “If you took all of the imaginable tones that a human can hear and combined them together, you would have white noise.”

How can white noise benefit and enhance memory?

Amazingly, there are a few different ways. White noise is often used in meditation and relaxation therapies to de-stress a person’s mind. Stress is a memory inhibitor. When our minds are loaded with problems and distractions it has a hard time focusing. When we can’t focus we are unable to learn, so what goes into our short-term memory goes right back out again quickly.

There also is a recent study that indicates that children with attention problems, like ADD or ADHD, can actually benefit from listening to white noise in the background as they are learning. It does not work for children who do not have attention problems, but it is a great stride in being able to calm down children who do and allow them to be able to focus.

Researchers in Sweden found that by providing white noise in the background to school age children with ADHD their sentence memory recall in the classroom improved significantly. They noted however, that they are not certain why this occurs.

One possible explanation offers was that children diagnosed with ADHD were more susceptible to auditory distractions normally, so the white noise masked the distracting noises so they were better able to concentrate. They found the opposite was true for children who had not problems with distractions, and that the white noise actually was a distraction in itself, to them. Their performance while the white noise was being played was decreased.

Previous research has shown that individuals with dyslexia also are more prone distractions, and that ADHD children alone were simply part of a group of people who could find less distraction from a background of white noise.

The Swedish experiment included a group of 51 secondary school students, and were tested on episodic verbal free recall tests under two types of noise conditions. In the high noise condition, verb/noun sentences were given with white noise background. In the low noise condition sentences were given without noise.

The results were that exposure to background noise improved the performance of the children who normally had attention problems, while worsened the performance of children with normal attention spans. They also found that the white noise eliminated any differences in episodic memory between either group of children.

Studies with more subjects still have to be conducted, but other preliminary work indicates pretty much the same conclusion.

Raising the ability of children with attention problems to concentrate and improve their memory, through the use of white noise, is an interesting memory tool that is worth exploring.

 From the desk of Ron White




Geonome Medicine – The effects of background white noise on memory performance in inattentive school children: http://www.behavioralandbrainfunctions.com/content/6/1/55

How Stuff Works – What is White Noise? http://www.howstuffworks.com/question47.htm

 Eide Neurolearning Blog – White Noise Helps Memory Recall of ADHD/Reading Impaired Children: http://eideneurolearningblog.blogspot.com/2010/11/white-noise-helps-memory-recall-of-adhd.html