Can a student’s classroom have an impact on their ability to learn effectively? According to a new study out of Carnegie Mellon University, there seems to be evidence that highly decorated classrooms may be a distraction for students.


Researchers Anna V. Fisher, Karrie E. Godwin, and Howard Seltman focused their research on how classroom displays affect a child’s ability to maintain focus and learn lesson content. Their results, published in Psychological Science, found that children in highly decorated classrooms were more distracted, were off task more often, and demonstrated smaller learning gains than their counterparts in a classroom where the decorations had been removed.


The study placed 24 kindergarten students in laboratory classrooms for six science lessons on topics that were unfamiliar to the students. Three lessons were taught in a heavily decorated classroom. Three lessons took place in a classroom without decorations. Although results showed the children learned in both environments, they reported more educational gains in the sparsely decorated classroom. In the undecorated room, children responded to test questions correctly about 55% of the time as opposed to 42% of the time in the decorated classroom.


Furthermore, the time students spent off-task was higher in the decorated classroom (38.6% of time spent off-task in the decorated room, 28.4% of time spent off-task in the undecorated room).


Although researchers do not suggest that teachers remove decorations from their classrooms, they believe more research needs to be done to understand the effect visual environment has on learning and attention.