Noise In The Workplace: How Sound Can Affect Your Productivity

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Effect of Sound on the Brain and productivity

For many of us, noisy workplaces can be a major hindrance to productivity. While we might enjoy talking to our co-workers, when we’re trying to draft an important email or figure out some complex logistics, the last thing that most of us want is to be doing this while a distracting conversation takes place in the next cubicle over. That being said, for the vast majority of people, the ideal workplace isn’t totally silent, either.

So if we don’t thrive in super noisy environments nor in incredibly quiet ones, where do we work best?

These days, thanks to the internet and a plethora of other technologies, many people work remotely, taking to coffee shops and coworking spaces for their daily 9-5 instead of the office cubicle. For those of us who can work anywhere where there’s an internet connection, the world may seem like our oyster. Whether you choose to head to the local espresso bar or to a public library, it’s important to know that the sound in your workplace might be affecting your productivity.

Noisy Offices For Creative Productivity

Many new coworking spaces profess to be the perfect place to dream up your new startup but are these open office plans and the noise they bring actually hurting more than helping? According to new research, it might not be the noise level in a workspace that distracts us, but who is making it.

A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that certain levels of ambient noise can actually stimulate our brains into thinking more creatively. During the study, researchers randomized participants into four groups and asked everyone to complete an assignment known as a Remote Associates Test, a test designed to measure creative thinking.

Each group was exposed to different levels of background noise – either 0, 50, 70, or 85 dB. The results are surprising.

Although many of us might think that the groups exposed to the least amount of noise would do the best on these tests, it turns out that while the differences between most of these groups were statistically insignificant, the people in the group exposed to 70 dB of sound did significantly better on their assignment than the other groups.

According to this study, our ability to think creatively doesn’t vary too much whether we’re sitting in total silence or listening to 85 dB of noise – the equivalent of a loud garbage disposal. This might seem a bit odd, as most of us would prefer not to read a book under such noisy conditions.

While there may not have been too much statistical difference between those two groups, the results from the 70 dB group imply that there might be an ideal level of background noise – somewhere between too loud and too quiet – that can actually enhance one’s creative thinking ability.

This ideal level of background noise might be able to distract our normal thinking patterns just enough to allow our minds to wander a bit and come up with creative ideas without completely derailing our thought processes. This way of thinking, sometimes referred to as ‘distracted focus’ might just be the optimal mental state for working on creative projects.

So, the next time you think about heading to the quiet room in the library to work on your magnum opus, perhaps consider a trip to your local coffee shop instead. It might just be what you need to get those creative juices flowing.


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