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How Much Noise is Optimal for Creativity?

In search of the Goldilocks Decibel

Judging from the crowds flowing into the big caffeine outlets with their laptops every day, a bit of background buzz is good for creativity. A train carriage works too, or maybe an airplane, with the gentle chattering of people around you. Anywhere but the quiet office, where the silence can be more distracting than any amount of public theatre.

This was the theory that led researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to look into the effects of noise on creative thinking. Their study confirmed their instincts: ambient noise of around 70 decibels, similar to a busy café or keeping the television on, is ideal for creativity.

The conclusion was that the background noise we experience in our daily lives is not necessarily a distraction, but it could actually be stimulating creativity. Just as long as it is not too loud or too quiet, mind - there seems to be a Goldilocks zone between silence and noise that is optimal for creativity.

a certain amount of distraction while working may be helpful for exactly that reason: it’s distracting

This is because creativity tends to come from out-of-the-box thinking, which is easier if there’s a bit of activity around. Leaving the quiet office, and stepping into a noisier environment like a café, could trigger a fresh set of thoughts around the problem.

Some people find that listening to music helps while they work. Classical music can aid to enhance mental performance.Familiar music can help improve focus.Creativity is boosted by the levels of sound in noisy coffee shops.

Out-of-the-box and into the Zone

It may feel like a brilliant idea is impossible to predict, but there may be a pattern to that Eureka moment.

The brain will actually start preparing for a breakthrough a few seconds before it happens

Tests have shown how a small section on the surface of the right hemisphere in the brain will light up just before an idea hits. But the brain then needs to relax for a second in order to reach out to more remote sections of grey matter, and this is how the epiphany is created.

Creative solutions require a leap between ideas, and that won’t happen if YOU focus too hard. Try some of these for inspiration...

Making a cup of coffee, taking a shower, going for a walk

brain teaser

Doing a classic brain teaser:

Marsha and Marjorie were born on the same day of the same month of the same year to the same mother and the same father, yet they are not twins. How is that possible?

Click to reveal answer They are triplets

A little bit of background noise could provide just the right amount of distraction to let the brain find the creative answer. This is the reasoning behind Coffitivity, a website that plays nothing but ambient coffee house noise in an attempt to boost listeners’ creativity.

Only when there’s something else happening in the background to break concentration, like a little bit of noise, is the brain free to jump to random, yet possibly brilliant, conclusions.

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