Research / Weiss Fund Supported ResearchFeb 25, 2020

Noise, Cognitive Function, and Worker Productivity

Joshua T. Dean

I investigate the relationship between noise and worker productivity with two experiments in Kenya. I first randomize exposure to engine noise during a textile training course at a government training facility. An increase of 10 dB reduces productivity by approximately 5%. In order to study what mechanism drives this effect, I then randomize engine noise during tests of cognitive function and placebo effort task. The same noise change impairs cognitive function but not effort task performance. This illustrates how environments associated with poverty can affect economic outcomes by impairing cognitive function. Finally, in both experiments, I examine whether individuals appreciate the impact of noise on their performance by eliciting participants’ willingness to pay for quiet working conditions while randomly varying whether they are compensated based on their performance. Individuals’ willingness to pay does not depend on the wage structure; suggesting that they are not aware that quiet working conditions would increase their performance pay. This cautions against the ability of workers to appropriately adapt to the impacts of noise and suggests dealing with environmental cognitive impediments may require policy intervention.