If you have ever been in a large crowd of people and begun to feel overwhelmed and discomforted by every small sound, you've likely experienced sensory overload. In the midst of such an experience, people often become anxious and have the urge to flee the situation. In other cases, people become anxious, irritable, or even violent.
When sensory overload occurs, the brain is not capable of processing all of the information that the senses are absorbing. Anyone can experience this phenomenon, and everyone has specific triggers that induce this response. Furthermore, some people have specific disorders or conditions that increase their risk of experiencing sensory overload.
To create a more welcoming environment for all audiences, anyone developing an informative audiovisual setup should consider the advice below to avoid inducing sensory overload with their displays.
What Is Sensory Overload?
Sensory overload occurs when a person's senses are overstimulated due to external stimuli. Essentially, a person's senses attempt to process too much information at once. For instance, an overload may occur if the music's too loud, or your vision may be compromised in the presence of excessively bright lights.
Of course, anyone can experience sensory overload, but certain groups of people are more prone to this than others. Out of all groups of people, children are most likely to experience sensory overload, with 1 in every 6 children having sensory processing challenges.
However, age is not the only contributing factor. If an adult has a disorder like autism or ADHD, they, too, are more likely to experience sensory overload. Studies show that anywhere from 5% to 16% of adults struggle with sensory processing disorders, but if the adult in question is undiagnosed, they may not understand why stimuli are overwhelming or “triggering” them.
People with the following medical conditions also have an increased likelihood of experiencing an overload:
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Tourette's Syndrome
- Multiple Sclerosis
What Causes Sensory Overload?
Typically, a person's senses process information from their surrounding environment. From there, the brain interprets the information, and the body responds. If there is too much information to process at once, the brain will not be able to interpret it, and the body will feel overwhelmed by the amount of information that there is to process.
The most common causes of sensory overload include the following:
- Exposure to Bright Lights. When lights are flashing or excessively bright, it may trigger sensitive people. This is especially common if the flashing lights occur with loud music or visuals.
- Loud Noises. Any excessively loud noise may induce sensory overload, and multiple loud noises occurring simultaneously from different sources increase its likelihood. For instance, large groups of people talking at the same time can easily cause sensory overload for many people.
- Crowded Spaces. If a space is particularly cramped and crowded, people who are prone to sensory overload can quickly become overwhelmed. Crowded areas induce large amounts of sensory stimulation, from visual and auditory stimuli to touch and even scent.
- Stress. Not everyone who experiences sensory overload has a disorder or illness. If a person is under vast amounts of stress or fatigue, they are also much more prone to overload. As a result, people who are stressed may need to unwind in a quiet, calm environment.
Avoiding Sensory Overload with Your AV Setup
Sensory overload is an unpleasant experience, and organizations should consider each element of an audiovisual design before implementing features to ensure that everyone present is comfortable and relaxed. Whether you’re installing displays to support lectures, presentations, or exhibits, experienced audiovisual integrators can work with your organization's specific needs and find innovative, dynamic solutions that minimize overstimulation and ensure a good experience for all participants.
Choose Displays That Fit the Size of the Room
The first step to reducing instances of sensory overload is choosing a display that suits the space. Whether you are selecting displays for a conference room, museum, or educational setting, it is crucial that the solutions you select complement the area’s dimensions. While displays that are too small are impossible to view properly, a display that is too large increases the risk that participants will feel overwhelmed. The ideal display size is dependent on how far away the closest view will be from the screen, so keep this in mind before installing screens or video walls.
Create Easy-to-Read Visuals
If there is too much pattern, texture, or the mixing of fonts within each visual element of a presentation, there is an additional risk that sensory overload may occur. When composing the visual elements of a presentation or display, ensure that each part is clear and easy to read. To reduce instances of overload, work with a minimalist design and focus on displaying the most important information rather than incorporating distracting visual elements.
Avoid Clashing Colors
Bright colors that don't go together can quickly overwhelm a sensitive audience and induce sensory overload. Luckily, this issue is fairly easy to prevent. When you're choosing colors within presentations, and even the decor within the room, choose calm, neutral, or muted colors that will soothe participants. Intense colors such as red, yellow, or orange may be too bright for sensitive individuals. Work with pastels, earth tones, and cool colors to minimize sensory issues.
Don't Use Too Many Monitors
If you need to display vast amounts of information in one place, it can be tempting to place multiple monitors throughout the room. However, it is important to remember when a person is suffering from sensory overload, each factor builds on the next. As a result, adding more features or monitors can quickly overstimulate someone prone to overload. When it comes to monitors, less is more.
Consult with Professional Integrators
Professional audiovisual integrators can ensure that the technology you choose meets your organization's needs. The best audiovisual integrators have experience working with a wide variety of clients, and they can evaluate the needs of your specific space and audience. If sensory overload is a primary concern for your organization's AV setup, audiovisual integration specialists will choose solutions that accommodate your unique needs.
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