When you’re trying to focus on work, you don’t want to be distracted by noise. Right? Maybe not. Some ambient background noise can apparently help boost creative cognition, according to research like a study published by the Journal of Consumer Research in 2012.
To quote the results of the study: “Compared to a relatively quiet environment (50 decibels), a moderate level of ambient noise (70 dB) enhanced subjects’ performance on the creativity tasks, while a high level of noise (85 dB) hurt it. Modest background noise, the scientists explain, creates enough of a distraction to encourage people to think more imaginatively.”
Whether noise has positive or negative effects on creativity and productivity depends on the kind of noise. Sounds that are too loud or those that are sudden can be very distracting—like traffic, construction, ringing phones, or anything that will jar you out of your “zone.”
But moderate, repetitive noise can be helpful. These can include the sounds at a restaurant or coffee shop, white noise, rain, or quiet music. In fact, this might explain why working at coffee shops is so popular—they have just the right amount of ambient noise to help prompt our minds to think more creatively.
You can find a variety of ambient noise apps for smartphones and on the web. We like Coffitivity, a website and app that features sounds of a coffee shop, lunchtime lounge, Brazil bistro, and more. The coffee shop sounds are free, but the five others require a premium subscription, which is just $9 per year.
There are also lots of white noise apps, websites, and even browser plugins. We found 5 White Noise Extensions for Chrome to be a helpful resource, because it’s convenient to change settings directly in the browser. You can find ambient noise browser extensions for other browsers as well. Websites like Noisli give you the option to choose between sounds to boost productivity or relaxation, and you can customize your own ambient soundtrack by selecting from a variety of nature sounds, along with coffee shop, white noise, fan sounds, and more. If you’re mobile, you can search your app store to find ambient noise generators, too. Both Apple’s App Store and Google Play have a number of options, so you’re sure to find one that meets your needs.
Of course, all people are different, so what works for you might not work for everyone. Maybe working in silence is what makes you the most productive. Or, you might thrive in a noisier environment. Either way, giving moderate-level ambient noise of some kind might be a great benefit to your efficiency while you work. Give it a try!