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
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
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.
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,
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.