Sensory white noise improves reading skills and memory recall in children with reading disability
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionSöderlund, G. B. W., Åsberg Johnels, J., Rothén, B., Torstensson‐Hultberg, E., Magnusson, A., & Fälth, L. (2021). Sensory white noise improves reading skills and memory recall in children with reading disability. Brain and Behavior. 10.1002/brb3.2114
Background Reading disability (RD) is characterized by slow and inaccurate word reading development, commonly reflecting underlying phonological problems. We have previously shown that exposure to white noise acutely improves cognitive performance in children with ADHD. The question addressed here is whether white noise exposure yields positive outcomes also for RD. There are theoretical reasons to expect such a possibility: a) RD and ADHD are two overlapping neurodevelopmental disorders and b) since prior research on white noise benefits has suggested that a central mechanism might be the phenomenon of stochastic resonance, then adding certain kinds of white noise might strengthen the signal-to-noise ratio during phonological processing and phoneme–grapheme mapping. Methods The study was conducted with a group of 30 children with RD and phonological decoding difficulties and two comparison groups: one consisting of skilled readers (n = 22) and another of children with mild orthographic reading problems and age adequate phonological decoding (n = 30). White noise was presented experimentally in visual and auditory modalities, while the children performed tests of single word reading, orthographic word recognition, nonword reading, and memory recall. Results For the first time, we show that visual and auditory white noise exposure improves some reading and memory capacities “on the fly” in children with RD and phonological decoding difficulties. By contrast, the comparison groups displayed either no benefit or a gradual decrease in performance with increasing noise. In interviews, we also found that the white noise exposure was tolerable or even preferred by many children. Conclusion These novel findings suggest that poor readers with phonological decoding difficulties may be immediately helped by white noise during reading. Future research is needed to determine the robustness, mechanisms, and long-term practical implications of the white noise benefits in children with reading disabilities.