Understanding the disturbance and the effects caused by noise

Science topics April 2014 City

Patricia Champelovier - AME Department, LTE Laboratory

More than half the people in the world live in cities where their health and general well-being suffer from the adverse effects noise pollution. The first step towards understanding these effects is to assess how noise is experienced by residents living near transport infrastructure. The next is to understand, predict and make allowances for the way individuals react to a change in their noise environment. The final step is to help in the choice of solutions that meet goals as regards sustainability and quality of life.

Noise perception – not just a response to the level of noise

Recording and measuring system of urban noise (copyright Ifsttar-Sophie Jeannin).

Noise is deemed to be a type of pollution: it is an « unwelcome emission of sound »1. This definition is made up of two parts: one is physical – what the ear hears –, and one psychological – what the individual feels. For psychologists, investigating perception involves examining how individuals interpret the signals they receive from the environment. This depends on our representations, knowledge, previous experience, expectations and motivations. What we perceive is not simply the reflection of the physical world 2.

The effects of noise: the connection between disturbance and health

Noise causes stress for individuals. Long-term exposure can increase the risk of chronic health impacts (particularly cardiovascular disorders) and increase consumption of certain medications.
The effects of noise on quality of life are multiple, ranging from interfering with speech to impairing sleep quality and performance. They can also modify behaviours within the home (closing windows, the use of certain rooms and external space, sound insulation, moving home, etc.).

Disturbance from noise is considered to be a subjective sensation. It is related to the characteristics of the noise, and also influenced by individual factors (depending on the dwelling, sensitivity to noise, experience of noise, being a transport user or not) and depends on the type of housing and socio-cultural factors (representation of the source, expectations with regard to the public authorities).
Disturbance is assessed on the basis of questionnaires (verbal 3or numerical scales of disturbance). The respondents’ answers are then compared with noise exposure indices measured in their homes.


Laboratoire de Simulation et d’Évaluation de l’Environnement (LSEE - Ifsttar)

IFSTTAR has been conducting in in situ surveys for a good many years in order to assess the disturbance caused by transport noise (road traffic, trains and 4. The LTE is currently involved in the question of exposure to multiple noise sources. The aim is to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms of perception and disturbance generated by complex noise situations, which are becoming increasingly common, especially in urban areas. Laboratory experiments have also been set up 5 6 in order to simulate environmental situations, taken from real life or not, and collect subjects’ assessments of them.

The results of this research have provided us with a better understanding of noise disturbance. This is applied when new infrastructure is constructed and helps when drafting regulations to protect residents.




1Moser, G. (2009) Psychologie environnementale, éditions De Boeck, 298 p.
2 Bonnet, C., Ghiglione, R., Richard, JF. (1989), Traité de psychologie cognitive, Tome 1 : Perception, action, langage, éditions Dunod, 266 p.
3 Afnor – Norme ISO/TS 15666/2003 : Évaluation de la gêne causée par le bruit au moyen d’enquêtes sociales et d’enquêtes socio-acoustiques.
4The LTE is currently involved in the project http://debats-avions.ifsttar.fr/ (epidemiological research led by the UMRESTTE Département TS2 which deals with the links between exposure to aircraft noise and health.
5 These experiments are being performed at the LSEE (Laboratory for Simulation and Appraisal of the Environment) an experimental facility that is part of the du LTE.