HotAIR - PSYCHOLOGY LESSON -- Three Hours of Noise


Three Hours of Noise

Yet another tool for teachers

by Alice Shirrell Kaswell, AIR staff

The experiment was sponsored by the Herman Miller company, maker of the luxurious Ergon 3 Extra-Size Work
pictured here

Some students believe that psychology experts sometimes need longer than three hours to do an experiment. Those students are probably mistaken -- as today's lesson demonstrates.

The Three-Hour Study

Our lesson is drawn from an experiment conducted by Gary Evans and Dana Johnson of Cornell University. Their official report, titled "Stress and Open-Office Noise," was published in the October 2000 (vol. 85, no. 5) issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology. This is also reported in a more accessible place -- an exciting press release issued by Cornell University. Here is how the press release explains Miller and Johnson's discovery:

These findings suggest that even moderately noisy open offices might contribute significantly to health problems such as heart disease (due to elevated levels of epinephrine, a stress hormone) and musculoskeletal problems, says Gary Evans, professor of design and environmental analysis. Evans is a leading expert on environmental stress, such as noise and crowding.

The press release also gives details of how the experiment was done:

With former Cornell graduate student Dana Johnson (M.S. '99), Evans randomly assigned 40 experienced clerical workers (all female and average age 37 years) to either a quiet office or one with low-intensity office noise (including speech) for three hours.

The environmental psychologists found that the workers in the noisy office experienced significantly higher levels of stress (as measured by urinary epinephrine), made 40 percent fewer attempts to solve an unsolvable puzzle and made only half as many ergonomic adjustments to their workstations as did their colleagues in quiet offices. Typing performance, however, was not affected.

Foolish Questions Students Might Ask

Your students are probably much less experienced than these professional psychologists. Being inexperienced, the students might ask foolish questions, such as:

<> FOOLISH QUESTION #1 -- For some people, might it take more than a few hours (or maybe even a few days?) to become used to a new office?

<> FOOLISH QUESTION #2 -- For some people, might it take more than a few hours (or maybe even a few days?) to become used to a new noise level?

<> FOOLISH QUESTION #3 -- After people really have become accustomed to their new office with its new noise level, might they feel less stressed than during the first three hours of exposure?

<> FOOLISH QUESTION #4 -- Is it safe to assume that the way people behave during an adjustment period is the same way they will behave later on?

Here is how you can tell a naive student from an experienced expert. A naive student might ask these kinds of questions. An experienced expert apparently would not.

The Point of This Lesson

And so, here is the main teaching point from today's lesson:

==> Apparently it is always safe to extrapolate, no matter how little you are extrapolating from, and to ignore the possibility that after a short period of adjustment people might get used to something new.

That is how the experts do it. Students will probably be encouraged to emulate them.

(Thanks to investigator Perry Thomas for bringing this to our attention.)

© Copyright 2001 Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)

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