The Record - Issue 18: Autumn 2020

120 www. t e c h n o l o g y r e c o r d . c om V I EWPO I NT The effects of bad audio J E S P E R KOC K : E POS New technologies and innovations can mitigate the physiological effects of bad audio and improve workplace productivity and well-being S ound can profoundly alter our state of mind and has the power to influence our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. With much of the global workforce working remotely, background noise continues to be a major threat to our productivity and health. Employees are largely unaware of its effects, so it is only by addressing these concerns that we can begin to unlock new levels of well-being and productivity. Unlike other senses, the brain is slower to respond to sound as it finds it trickier to switch between stimuli. For instance, when on a con- ference call that is marred by audio issues such as background noises, the brain works harder to focus on the most important source of sound. Speech perception in adverse listening situations can be exhausting and can easily result in brain fatigue. When audio sensory overloads flood the brain, cortisol (the stress hormone) is released. In excess, cortisol can inhibit the functions of the brain’s prefrontal cortex – the hub of emotional learning and processing that enables us to regu- late behaviours such as reasoning and planning. Exposure to noises that activate a stress response can cause mental and physical problems. When extrapolated over days, weeks and months, this can have a detrimental impact on well-being. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the US reports that intrusive and interruptive background noise can increase stress levels and exacerbate stress-related conditions like high blood pressure, migraine headaches and even coronary disease. Auditory information plays an important role in guiding our other senses and has a pro- found impact on what we hear, feel and think. Defining what constitutes ‘bad audio’ is simple. In the most macro of senses, there are loud, interruptive sounds that trigger an instant evolutionary response. For instance, when someone experiences a stressful noise, the brain responds with a distress signal to pump adrenaline into the bloodstream. Then there are the micro, consistent sounds and ambient interruptions that can have a hidden impact on our overall well-being. We know that noisy environments and exter- nal conversations are barriers to productivity. What’s also increasingly apparent is that audio interference can have a stark impact on perfor- mance, jeopardising comprehension and time optimisation, and increasing stress levels. Even smaller increases in unwanted sound can have a significant effect. Multiple studies have shown that living near airports or motorways can have an impact on an individual’s long- term well-being, with one study suggesting that people living in areas with more traffic-related noise were 25 per cent more likely to have symp- toms of depression. “Audio devices can learn about the sounds that a user wants to hear and filter out the rest”