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Page Nine of an eleven-page article:
Noise: A Health Problem
United States Environmental Protection Agency

Mental and Social Well-Being

"The Noise, The Noise. I just couldn't stand the Noise."
Suicide note left by a desperate homeowner.

The most obvious price we pay for living in an overly noisy world is the annoyance we frequently experience. Perhaps because annoyance is so commonplace, we tend to take our daily doses of it for granted - not realizing that the irritability that sometimes surfaces can be a symptom of potentially more serious distress inside us. When noise becomes sufficiently loud or unpredictable, or if the stress imposed is great enough, our initial annoyance can become transformed into more extreme emotional responses and behavior. When this happens, our tempers flare and we may "fly off the handle" at the slightest provocation.

Newspaper files and police records contain reports of incidents that point to noise as trigger of extreme behavior. For instance, a night clerical worker upset about noise outside his apartment, shot one of the boys causing the disturbance after he had shouted at them, to no avail, to "Stop the noise." As other examples, sanitation workers have been assaulted, construction foremen threatened, and motorboat operators shot at -all because of the noise they were producing.

Such extreme actions are not the usual responses to noise and stress. Some people cope with loud noise by directing their anger and frustration inward, by blaming themselves for being upset, and by suffering in silence. Others resort to a denial of the problem altogether, considering themselves so tough that noise does not bother them. Still others deal with noise in a more direct manner: they take sleeping pills and wear ear plugs, increase their visits to doctors and keep their windows closed, rearrange their sleeping quarters and spend less time outdoors, and write letters complaint to government officials.

Most of the time these ways of contending with noise are not likely to eliminate the noise or any underlying annoyance. Short of taking extreme action - which is unlikely to solve the problem either - most people who cannot cope with noise in these ways typically direct their anger and frustration at others and become more argumentative and moody, though not necessarily violent. This noise-induced, anti-social behavior may be far more prevalent than we realize.

Indeed, noise can strain relations between individuals, cause people to be less tolerant of frustration and ambiguity, and make people less willing to help others. One recent study, for example, found that, while a lawnmower was running nearby, people were less willing to help a person with a broken arm pick up a dropped armload of books. Another study of two groups of people playing a game found that the subjects playing under noisier conditions perceived their fellow players as more disagreeable, disorganized, and threatening. Several industrial studies indicate that noise can heighten social conflicts both at work and at home. And reports from individuals suggest that noise increases tensions between workers and their supervisors, resulting in additional grievances against the employer.

Although no one would say that noise by itself brings on mental illness, there is evidence that noise-related stress can aggravate already existing emotional disorders. Research in the United States and England points to higher rates of admission to psychiatric hospitals among people living close to airports. And studies of several industries show that prolonged noise exposure may lead to a larger number of psychological problems among workers.

Noise can cause extreme emotions and behavior

Anti-social behavior caused by noise may be more prevalent than is realized

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This page from the USEPA Report is part of Section Seven:
The Harm section of