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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.