Noisy workplaces get the creative juices flowing

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JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone in a busy London café – madness to some, but according to new research a moderate level of noise—the equivalent of the background buzz of conversation — stimulates more-creative thought.

Research soon to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research will discuss the results of several experiments involving more than 300 people which canvassed their productivity across a range of scenarios. Participants were tasked with exercises demanding mental flexibility, including word-association games and practical problems.

The participants were played noise recorded in a cafeteria, roadside, and at a construction site at three levels: soft, moderate, and loud. The ‘moderate’ level was equivalent to what one would hear in a bustling café (70 decibels), and this was found to be the optimum noise level for balancing both creativity and productivity. People in the moderate-noise groups scored the highest results on an objective word-association test, and their answers to the other problems were rated (albeit subjectively) by peers as being the most creative.

The study adds to previous research which has suggested that small doses of distraction – such as hard-to-read fonts – force the mind to compensate and work at a more abstract level, which then fosters heightened creativity.

Notably, the possibility that sound worked as a stimulant was considered but rejected. While participants’ heart rates did rise when they first encountered noise, this soon returned to a normal level.

Perhaps the sweet spot lies somewhere between silence, office banter and jackhammers.

The noisiest jobs in the world

Working in a bottle plant - 88db

Motorcycle courier - 90db

Flying an offshore helicopter - 97db

(On the way to work..)Travelling on a train listening to an iPod - 100dB

Lawnmower - 107db

Staff in a nightclub - 110db

Rock musicians - 110db

Airport ground staff - 140db

Shooting range marshals - 140db


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