Gary Evans, a Cornell researcher in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis, has spent much of his career researching this important issue. Evans, who is an environmental psychologist, has completed a large body of research that examines the relationship of crowding, noise, housing and neighborhood quality on the lives of children. His research reveals that these factors can have a lot of impact on a child’s academic achievement, as well as cognitive and social development.
Noise is one of the factors that Evans has studied. Music, conversation and transportation are the most common noises that children are exposed to. Evans and colleagues have found that noise levels, such as those in homes near airports, can result in children’s reading delays. Children often adapt to exposure to chronic noise by tuning out auditory input, which can also result in delayed language development.
Overcrowding is another factor that can result in biological and cognitive delays for children. While family size is not a factor in overcrowding, Evans has identified density (the number of people in a room) as a crucial variable to measure when examining the effects of crowding. Children may withdraw as a way of coping with over stimulating environments. Specific effects of crowding on preschoolers are distraction and less constructive play.
Research has also found that neighborhood environments can have a great impact on child well-being. Some of the factors that have the most impact are housing quality, toxic exposure, access to natural settings, transportation and health services. Natural settings have a constructive effect by providing children with the opportunities to develop gross mother skills and alleviating the negative effects of children’s exposure to chronic stress.
The good news is that there are many things that can be done to improve the environments children are living in and address negative environmental factors. These ideas are detailed in a brief that you can read entitled The Effects of the Physical Environment on Children’s Development.