How the Hum of a Coffee Shop Can Boost Creativity – NYTimes.com
Pulling up a seat at your favorite coffee shop may be the most efficient way to write a paper or finish a work project. But now a new Web site lets you bring the coffee shop to your cubicle.
The site, called Coffitivity, was inspired by recent research showing that the whoosh of espresso machines and caffeinated chatter typical of most coffee shops creates just the right level of background noise to stimulate creativity. The Web site, which is free, plays an ambient coffee shop soundtrack that, according to researchers, helps people concentrate.
In a series of experiments that looked at the effects of noise on creative thinking, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had participants brainstorm ideas for new products while they were exposed to varying levels of background noise. Their results, published in The Journal of Consumer Research, found that a level of ambient noise typical 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 found.
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.”
But moderate levels can distract people just enough so that they think more broadly. “It helps you think outside the box,” he said.