Freelancers, creatives, and the work-from-home-set have long held the local coffee shop (or chain) as their secondary, semi-private office. You arrive, order a drink, set your stuff down, and many times enter into to a flow-like state of work, only to be interrupted when your cups runs dry or your battery runs out. Many even believe they are more productive or more creative when working from coffee shops–and they could be right.
But it’s not the caffeine that does it. It’s the background noise.
In a recently published study in the Journal of Consumer Research, a team of professors led by Ravi Mehta at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign explored the effects of various levels of background noise on individual creative thinking. The researchers divided participants into four teams and subjected each team to background noise at a different volume (50 decibels, 70 decibels, 85 decibels and a control of no background noise). They asked each participant to complete a Remote Associates Test, a commonly accepted measurement of creative thinking. When they tabulated the results, the researchers found that those in the moderate-noise condition outperformed those in all the other conditions, hence moderate-noise was amplifying their creative output.
The study’s results imply what many freelancers already know, that locking yourself off from the world to try to break a creative block in your work may not be the right method. Instead, consider leaving your normal routine and finding a semi-noisy environment to settle down into and let your creativity flow like $4 lattes.