A new study explains why many of us find it easier to work and learn when sitting with our laptops in busy places. The answer is simple: modest ambient noise (around 70 decibels) triggers the part of our brains responsible for abstract and creative thinking.
Photo by Steven Harris.
The full study, published in the December edition of the Journal of Consumer Research, describes how researchers conducted five separate experiments to see how noise level influenced productivity and creative cognition. Their results, according to a report by The Atlantic, were fairly clear:
Compared to a relatively quiet environment (50 decibels), a moderate level of ambient noise (70 dB) enhanced subjects' performance on the creativity tasks, while a high level of noise (85 dB) hurt it. Modest background noise, the scientists explain, creates enough of a distraction to encourage people to think more imaginatively.
They also include a helpful chart describing various decibel levels and the types of noise you may be used to hearing at each level. The researchers suggest that if you're the type who enjoys a little ambient noise, a trip to the coffee shop may be in order over a quiet library, although I've been in libraries with just the right amount of noise as well.
Science aside, how well you work is a highly individual thing, and we're sure many of you work better in absolute silence while others need some background noise or music to get in the zone. I think we can all agree that too much noise makes it impossible to get anything done. If you do go to the coffee shop to work, make sure to be courteous and follow some basic rules of etiquette while you're there.