It can be hard to do creative work in a noisy cubicle, but a silent office isn’t ideal, either. Indeed, a new paper published in the Journal of Consumer Research says that the perfect working environment should buzz with a little ambient noise. How much of a background hum is optimal? Here, a brief guide to why peace and quiet might make it harder for you to do your best thinking:
Photo: CC by Ipoh Kia
What is the ideal noise level? Researchers found that test subjects were at their most creative when background noise was measured at 70 decibels, a level one might find in a fairly busy coffee shop. A nearly silent environment (50 decibels) was too quiet. Cranking up the volume to 85 decibels (by, say, adding a jackhammering laborer outside your building) is counterproductive; the noise becomes a distraction.
How did they figure this out? The researchers asked 65 students at the University of British Columbia to perform various creative tasks while noises recorded at a roadside restaurant were played in the background. In one experiment, for example, scientists asked participants to brainstorm ideas for a new type of mattress. Test subjects had the most success when the noise in the background was noticeable, but not jarring.
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