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  Spring 2005

The Danger of Marketing Loud as Fun
Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D.

From the time children come into this world, they are inundated with toys that are louder than they should be. Certain baby rattles and some squeaky toys have been measured as high at 110 dB(A), recognizing that exposure to noise over 85 dB(A) is considered potentially harmful to hearing. (Nadler, 1997). Sound volume is measured on a decibel scale which is abbreviated dB. The modified scale, called the (A) scale responds more closely to the way people actually hear the volume of the particular sound; decibels are abbreviated dB(A). Thus, toys reaching 110 dB(A) are very loud indeed. When the baby grows into a toddler, their toy phones have been measured by Nancy Nadler of the League for the Hard of Hearing at levels between 123 and 129 dB(A) and their toy drums and horns as loud as 120 dB(A). As youngsters grow older they are attracted by toys that amplify their voices and these have been measured up to 135 db(A) (Nadler, 1997).

The loud toys to which young children are exposed were designed to bring them fun, but they might also result in noise-induced hearing loss. A 2001 report by Niskar and her colleagues found that nearly 12.5% of American children between the ages of 6 and 19 have noise-related hearing loss. Young children are especially vulnerable to the loud sounds of toys because they put them so close to their ears. Audiologists are becoming more aware of the hazards of loud toys but parents are less aware and need to be educated to the dangers of the toys they are purchasing for their children. Furthermore, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has not attended to the issue of loudness as it has to the danger of children ingesting the small parts of some toys.

When children grow older they are taken to movies and video arcades that blast sounds beyond 100 decibels. Plakke (1983) found that some of the games he has measured at video arcades reached levels beyond 111 dB(A). Sawhill and Brown (1998) in their article Pumping up the volume: Movie sound has been getting better--and louder reported that Godzilla shrieked at the edge of Central Park at 114 decibels and that in the movie Armageddon, the shuttle took off from the asteroid at 117 decibels.  Parents also take children of all ages to auto racing events, exposing them to the high volume sounds of the autos racing around the tracks. Youngsters too often listen to their headsets at high volumes as they do to the audio accompanying their home video games.

Aided by parental dollars, teenagers have been fitting their cars with high-powered stereo systems. They then race along neighborhood streets in these boomcars, much to the dismay of neighbors who are overwhelmed by these intrusive ear-splitting noises.

That our society associates loud with fun and excitement may explain why too little attention has focused on the dangers of loud toys, video arcades, loud movies and boomcars. Furthermore, members of our society who have asked for less noise and more quiet are too often called old-fogies. Without addressing at this time why our society has adopted the position that loud is exciting, it should suffice to say that advertisements abound enticing our young people to buy and play loud, even to the point of annoying their neighbors. It should be noted that so many older children have been reared in an environment that associated loudness with fun; thus, making the task of advertisers for teenagers so much easier.


SONY, until anti-noise activists protested, advertised their products by urging buyers to "Disturb the Peace."  MTX Audio Subwoofers urge you to "Turn it Up, Keep It Up."  Advertisers of audio systems appeal to youngsters with the following slogans: "It's not My Remote. It's My Detonator," "Shake Seats and Annoy Neighbors,"  Shake the Living, Wake the Dead."  Car Sound Magazine called one of its issues: "Super Loud Issue," and the front cover shows a woman's ears being held to lessen the impact of the sound. Our magazines and its advertisements will undoubtedly play a role in bringing about hearing loss early in our citizens. Furthermore, advertisements are teaching youngsters to be rude, disrespectful and aggressive. To the residents forced to hear these unwanted sounds, and that is what noise is, unwanted, uncontrollable and unpredictable sounds, the noise from their loud stereos, has intruded on their right to peace and quiet in their homes. Potential hearing loss is not a matter that should be taken lightly but neither should the promotion of irresponsible behavior.

The Noise Control Act of 1972 was passed to protect Americans from the harmful effects of noise. The Office of Noise Abatement and Control was established in the Environmental Protection Agency to carry out the mandate of the Noise Control Act. This office had printed pamphlets and flyers educating people to the hazards of noise to our health and well-being. According to this office's pamphlet Noise: A Health Problem.  "Racket, din, clamor, noise. Whatever you want to call it, unwanted sound is America's most widespread nuisance" (1978). The office also provided financial aid to the states to support their anti-noise activities. However, this office was essentially defunded by former President Ronald Reagan and has been kept essentially closed during the terms of his successors. With no federal office to oversee noise control, little has been down to lower the decibel level. Clamor from anti-noise organizations have pressured some manufacturers to quiet their products, e.g. vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, hair dryers, washing machines. However, this has not extended to the many companies that continue to promote loud as fun.

It is time for parents, educators, and concerned legislators to denounce the use of advertising to encourage ear-splitting sounds that may cause hearing loss in our young people and have deleterious effects on the mental and physical health of residents subjected to these invasive sounds. However, more than criticism may be needed to curtail outrageous advertisements. The Office of Noise Abatement and Control should be re-established, properly funded, and given authority so that the Noise Control Act of 1972 can indeed operate to protect our citizens from the dangers of unwanted loud sounds.

Young people should still be encouraged to enjoy themselves but be reminded that they can still have fun in a world that is less loud. In fact, they may also rediscover the wonders of activities that can be done in a quieter environment: reading, studying, learning, and thinking.
 

Arline Bronzaft (Albtor@aol.com), Professor Emerita of Psychology, City University of New York, is one of the nationís foremost experts on the effects of noise on children.  For more information about children and noise, please visit http://www.cenyc.org/HTMLPE/noise.htm and http://www.lhh.org/noise/


References

Nadler, N. (1997). Noisy toys - some toys are not as fun as they look. Hearing Rehabilitation
Quarterly, 22, 8-10.

Niskar, A. S., Kieszak, S. M., Holmes, A., Esteban, E., Rubin, C. & Brody, D. J. (2001). Estimated prevalence of noise induced hearing threshold shifts among children 6 to 19 years of age: The third national health and nutrition examination survey, 1988-1994. Pediatrics, 108, 123-131.

Plakke, B. L. (1983). Noise levels of electric arcade games: a potential hearing hazard to children. Ear and hearing, 4, 202-203.

Sawhill, R. & Brown, C. (1998, July 6). Pumping up the volume: Movie sound has been getting better and louder. Newsweek, p.66.

United States Environmental Protection Agency, (1978). Noise: A Health Problem. Washington, D. C. Office of Noise Abatement and Control, U.S. EPA.


 

 
 

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