Robin Damrad-Frye and James Laird asked 91 college students to listen to a tape recording of a magazine article, and then asked them to answer some questions. Some students worked in a quiet room, some were subjected to a mildly distracting TV program in the next room, and some could hear the TV show loud and clear. Laird says that the students who worked in silence didn't have trouble focusing their attention on the tape and weren't bored. The students who were subject to the blaring TV in the background also weren't bored because they were keenly aware of the noise and attributed their inattention to it.
But many students who tried to work with the muffled TV in the background said they found the article and the speaker "boring,'' "undynamic,'' and "uninteresting.''
This should raise some yellow flags for classroom teachers, according to Laird, a professor at the Frances Hiatt School of Psychology. "A lot of classroom situations create exactly the wrong level of noise and distraction--noise that is clearly present but not very loud,'' he says. Laird offers teachers a paradoxical suggestion: "Let the noise level get higher. The kids will be distracted, but at least they'll recognize it and not label it as boredom.''