What is it about?

This study combines all the available evidence about the types of sounds that are distracting to readers. It considered the impact of environmental noise, nearby speech and music on reading comprehension performance. It was found that all sounds lead to a small, but reliable reduction in text comprehension. Sounds that contain language (e.g., nearby speech or music) were found to be most distracting. Listening to music was found to be distracting only for lyrical songs. Instrumental songs did not appear to cause distraction.

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Why is it important?

There has been a large amount of research on auditory distraction during reading in the past several decades, but so far no attempt has been made to pool together all the available evidence. The present study gives insights into the types of sounds that may distract readers from their task and reduce their performance. This has important real-world implications for reading in educational and work settings (e.g., classrooms or open-plan offices) where distracting sounds may be present.


This paper is the culmination of my research into the available evidence on auditory distraction during reading. I started researching this topic during my PhD studies. However, I quickly realised that there are many, but somewhat conflicting findings in the literature. To make sense of all the results, I undertook this analysis and shared my findings in this article. I hope that it will serve as a valuable starting point for future researchers interested in this topic. I think that there are many fascinating questions on this topic that are still left to be answered and I hope that others will expand on these results.

Martin R. Vasilev
Bournemouth University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Auditory Distraction During Reading: A Bayesian Meta-Analysis of a Continuing Controversy, Perspectives on Psychological Science, June 2018, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/1745691617747398.
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