Shepherd et al. Negative Affect Hypothesis of Noise Sensitivity

The Negative Affect Hypothesis of Noise Sensitivity

Daniel Shepherd 1,*, Marja Heinonen-Guzejev 2, Kauko Heikkilä 2, Kim N. Dirks 3, Michael J. Hautus 4, David Welch 3 and David McBride 5

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
ISSN 1660-4601


Some studies indicate that noise sensitivity is explained by negative affect, a dispositional tendency to negatively evaluate situations and the self. Individuals high in such traits may report a greater sensitivity to other sensory stimuli, such as smell, bright light and pain. However, research investigating the relationship between noise sensitivity and sensitivity to stimuli associated with other sensory modalities has not always supported the notion of a common underlying trait, such as negative affect, driving them. Additionally, other explanations of noise sensitivity based on cognitive processes have existed in the clinical literature for over 50 years. Here, we report on secondary analyses of pre-existing laboratory (n = 74) and epidemiological (n = 1005) data focusing on the relationship between noise sensitivity to and annoyance with a variety of olfactory-related stimuli. In the first study a correlational design examined the relationships between noise sensitivity, noise annoyance, and perceptual ratings of 16 odors. The second study sought differences between mean noise and air pollution annoyance scores across noise sensitivity categories. Results from both analyses failed to support the notion that, by itself, negative affectivity explains sensitivity to noise.



Two secondary analyses were performed on affective ratings of sensory data, specifically noise annoyance data and affective ratings of odor pleasantness (Study One) and air quality (Study Two). The research hypotheses were motivated by explanations of noise sensitivity focusing on negative affect. Findings from all analyses indicate that, in itself, negative affect is unlikely to be a general cause of noise sensitivity, and other mechanisms are worthy of examination. Specific challenges needed to be addressed in future research center on the theoretical and empirical disentanglement of negative affect, global sensitivities, and other potential mechanisms of noise sensitivity. This will likely entail refining analyses to specific subgroups, who may represent distinct etiologies in relation to their sensitivity to noise.

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1 School of Public Health, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland 0627, New Zealand; E-Mail:

2 Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, PO Box 41, Helsinki FI-00014, Finland; E-Mails: (M.H.-G.); (K.H.)

3 School of Population Health, University of Auckland, Auckland 1142, New Zealand;

E-Mails: (K.N.D.); (D.W.)

4 School of Psychology, University of Auckland, Auckland 1142, New Zealand; E-Mail:

5 School of Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand; E-Mail: