Noise Can Help Your Thinking

More cool research. Researchers at the U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wrench in the worksexposed subjects to different levels of background noise while they were brainstorming ideas for new products. They found that a level of noise similar to that of a bustling coffee shop or a television playing in a living room, about 70 decibels, enhanced performance compared with the relative quiet of 50 decibels. A higher level of noise, however, about 85 decibels, roughly the noise level generated by a blender or a garbage disposal, was too distracting.

The researchers are particularly interested in factors that influence consumer purchasing but the results are also useful for creative type tasks.  Results: A moderate (70 dB) versus low (50 dB) level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks and increases the buying likelihood of innovative products. A high level of noise (85 dB), on the other hand, hurts creativity. Moderate vs. low noise increases processing difficulty thereby inducing a higher construal level and thus promoting abstract processing, which subsequently leads to higher creativity. A high level of noise, however, impairs creativity.

Ravi Mehta, an assistant professor of business administration at the university who led the research, said that extreme quiet tends to sharpen your focus, which can prevent you from thinking in the abstract.

“This is why if you’re too focused on a problem and you’re not able to solve it,” Dr. Mehta said, “you leave it for some time and then come back to it and you get the solution.”

Source: Journal of Consumer ResearchVol. 39, No. 4, December 2012Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition. Ravi Mehta, Rui (Juliet) Zhu, and Amar Cheema




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