This week The Atlantic reported on a study by Ravi Mehta et al and published in the Journal of Consumer Research, "Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition." The study provides data to support what so many of us already know: coffee shops are the place to go for more than coffee. Based on these data, Mehta and his colleagues link the surge in creativity that is common in coffee shops not to the caffeine but to the moderate noise level.
"Modest background noise, the scientists explain, creates enough of a distraction to encourage people to think more imaginatively.
The next time you're stumped on a creative challenge, head to a bustling coffee shop, not the library. As the researchers write in their paper, '[I]nstead of burying oneself in a quiet room trying to figure out a solution, walking out of one's comfort zone and getting into a relatively noisy environment may trigger the brain to think abstractly, and thus generate creative ideas.'"
Just yesterday I took a project to a coffee shop. I'd been feeling stuck on the project and it languished on my to-do list. An hour later I left the shop with pages of notes on what to do next. Coffee shops: they work like a charm. Well worth the price of a cup, and of course, a blueberry scone can't hurt.