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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