Noise in Communication

Noise as Disruption in the Process of Communication

noise in communication
David D. Acker suggests that the "biggest single cause of noise in the communication process may be the assumption that the act of communicating is a simple process—that it doesn't require much thought or practice . . .. This is not true" (Skill in Communication). (Dan Sipple/Getty Images)

In communication studies and information theory, noise refers to anything that interferes with the communication process between a speaker and an audience. It is also called interference.

Noise can be external (a physical sound) or internal (a mental disturbance), and it can disrupt the communication process at any point. Another way to think of noise, says Alan Jay Zaremba, is as a "factor that reduces the chances of successful communication but does not guarantee failure." ("Crisis Communication: Theory and Practice," 2010)

"Noise is like second-hand smoke," says Craig E. Carroll, "having negative impacts on people without anyone's consent." ("The Handbook of Communication and Corporate Reputation," 2015)

Examples and Observations

"External noises are sights, sounds and other stimuli that draw people's attention away from the message. For instance, a pop-up advertisement may draw your attention away from a web page or blog. Likewise, static or service interruptions can play havoc in cell phone conversations, the sound of a fire engine may distract you from a professor's lecture or the smell of donuts may interfere with your train of thought during a conversation with a friend." (Kathleen Verderber, Rudolph Verderber, and Deanna Sellnows, "Communicate!" 14th ed. Wadsworth Cengage 2014)

4 Kinds of Noise

"There are four kinds of noise. Physiological noise is distraction caused by hunger, fatigue, headaches, medication and other factors that affect how we feel and think.

Physical noise is interference in our environments, such as noises made by others, overly dim or bright lights, spam and pop-up ads, extreme temperatures and crowded conditions. Psychological noise refers to qualities in us that affect how we communicate and interpret others. For instance, if you are preoccupied with a problem, you may be inattentive at a team meeting.

Likewise, prejudice and defensive feelings can interfere with communication. Finally, semantic noise exists when words themselves are not mutually understood. Authors sometimes create ​semantic noise by using jargon or unnecessarily technical language." (Julia T. Wood, "Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters," 6th ed. Wadsworth 2010)

Noise in Rhetorical Communication

"Noise...refers to any element that interferes with the generation of the intended meaning in the mind of the receiver...Noise may arise in the source, in the channel; or in the receiver. This factor of noise is not an essential part of the rhetorical communication process. In fact, the communication process is always hampered to some degree if noise is present. Unfortunately, noise is almost always present.

"As a cause of failure in rhetorical communication, noise in the receiver is second only to noise in the source. Receivers of rhetorical communication are people, and no two people are exactly alike. Consequently, it is impossible for the source to determine the exact effect that a message will have upon a given receiver...The noise within the receiver—the psychology of the receiver—will determine to a great extent what the receiver will perceive." (James C McCroskey, "An Introduction to Rhetorical Communication: A Western Rhetorical Perspective," 9th ed.; Routledge, 2016)

Noise in Intercultural Communication

"For effective communication in an intercultural interaction, participants must rely on a common language, which usually means that one or more individuals will not be using their native tongue. Native fluency in a second language is difficult, especially when nonverbal behaviors are considered. People who use another language will often have an accent or might misuse a word or phrase, which can adversely affect the receiver's understanding of the message. This type of distraction, referred to as semantic noise, also encompasses jargon, slang and even specialized professional terminology." (Edwin R. McDaniel et al., "Understanding Intercultural Communication: The Working Principles." "Intercultural Communication: A Reader," 12th ed., ed. by Larry A Samovar, Richard E Porter and Edwin R McDaniel, Wadsworth, 2009)

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Noise in Communication." ThoughtCo, Oct. 9, 2017, Nordquist, Richard. (2017, October 9). Noise in Communication. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Noise in Communication." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 17, 2018).