From the Lab: The Coffee Shop Effect

In a 2012 study, Ravi Mehta, Rui Zhu, and Amar Cheema found that a moderate (70 dB) level of ambient noise is more conducive to creativity than either a low (50 dB) or high (85 dB) level of ambient noise. 70 dB is about the level of noise at a coffee shop, causing some to dub this “the coffee shop effect.” For reference, 50 dB is the level of noise in a quiet suburban home, and 85 dB is the noise level of a blender. This suggests that if you’re having trouble being creative, you may want to venture out to find a bit of noise, or else turn on the TV or radio, which can also provide a similar level of noise.

This is something I originally learned from my wife Melissa, who always like to have background noise when she’s working. Before I met her, I had always worked in silence, and while I still prefer that for certain tasks, I’ve also found that a bit of background noise can be quite helpful for other tasks. As always, it’s about seeing what works best for you—try out both options, and see what you prefer.


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