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Sound Judgment

Silence isn’t so golden if you want to encourage creativity

Author Jacqueline Detwiler


Ever wonder how budding writers can carve out the great American novel in a café full of coffee grinders and mumbling patrons? So did a group of researchers who recently published a report in the Journal of Consumer Research. In five experiments, they investigated whether a low (50 dB), medium (70 dB) or high (85 dB) volume of coffee shop noise was most conducive to creative success on tasks like inventing a better mattress, brainstorming uses for a brick and solving a fashion quandary. Again and again, the results indicated that the medium amount of noise—a typical volume for a coffee shop—resulted in the most creative answers. The researchers believe 70 dB provides just enough of a distraction to disrupt mental processing and cause abstract thinking—the same kind of disruption that leads to that eureka moment in the shower—but isn’t so loud that it reduces processing overall. And we thought it was the caffeine….

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