Blurry text on a screen

Flickering screens can help children with reading and writing difficulties

Children with reading and writing difficulties who are exposed to flickering screens, so-called sensory white noise, both read better and remember more of what they have read. This is shown in a new Swedish-Norwegian study for which Linda Fälth, associate professor at Linnaeus University, is one of the authors.

Earlier studies have shown that children with concentration difficulties, with our without diagnosis, who are exposed to auditory white noise become better at solving cognitive tasks. However, this is the first time such a connection has been proven between visual white noise and cognitive abilities like memory and reading ability in children with reading and writing difficulties.

In the study, children got to read 12 words while being exposed to four different levels of visual white noise, from no white noise at all to a lot of white noise. The test consisted of checking how many of the words the children could read correctly and how many they could remember afterwards.

“The visual white noise used by the children can be compared to placing a filter over the words on the screen. The effect on reading and memory recall was immediate”, says associate professor Linda Fälth, researcher in reading and writing development at Linnaeus University’s Department of Pedagogy and Learning.

The study was conducted on some 80 pupils on the intermediate level at compulsory schools in Småland. The participating children were chosen based on a reading test and were divided into three groups: good readers, children with some reading difficulties, and children with great reading difficulties.

“This is the first time effects on higher cognition have been proven, in this case both reading and memory recall, with the help of visual white noise”, says professor Göran Söderlund, senior lecturer in pedagogy at Gothenburg University and professor of special pedagogy at Høgskulen, Vestlandet, Norway, who, together with Linda Fälth, is responsible for the study.

Important to have the right level of sensory white noise
The children were exposed to different levels of sensory white noise and the results showed that the level of noise was critical to reading ability and memory recall.

“A comparison can be made to being near-sighted and needing glasses. We could see that when we exposed the children to the mid-level of noise their reading improved, but with no noise and with a lot of noise their reading ability decreased”, explains Göran Söderlund.

The research group now wants to continue conducting research on the effects of sensory white noise and the hope is that new studies can answer the question whether practice with white noise for a longer period of time can lead to permanent improvements.

“As this is the first study of its kind and the groups are not very large, the results should be interpreted with caution. Having said this, I would still like to point out that by using these relatively simple means we were immediately able to facilitate reading for some pupils”, Linda Fälth concludes.

The study “Sensory white noise improve reading skills and memory recall in children with reading disability” has been published in the scientific journal Brain and Behaviour.

The study has been conducted by Göran Cederlund, Jakob Åsberg Johnels, Gillberg Centre at Gothenburg University; Andreas Magnuson, Chalmers University of Technology; and Bodil Rothén, Ellen Torstensson-Hultberg, and Linda Fälth, Linnaeus University.