Noise or music? Busting café myths

Although working from public spaces comes with a couple of disadvantages, science has proved that noise might actually be helpful in boosting creativity.


Working from a café: sounds both interesting and scary. Ones being on the con side of the matter would stress money spending, not having a place of your own, focusing challenges, interruptions, attitudes towards long-staying customers, and (now is time to pay attention), noise.

Daily noises are not as disturbing as thought

Assessing all the above mentioned cons is not the purpose of this article, but busting the myth of “noise”. We all recognize the typical sounds manufactured by cafeterias: coffee grinders, bar shakers, glasses clinking, scratched trays, fridge rattling, doors shutting, laughters, whispers, background music, and I could go on and on. Might sound disturbing, but they are actually not.

Scientific back-up

Backed up by recent research, a new approach has been pointed out: the right level of background noises stimulates creativity. In a couple of experiments, researchers of University of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign, investigated the effects of noise on creativity and brain activity. Participants were fulfilling different tasks while being subjects to different levels of noise. Described in detail in the Journal of Consumer Research, the conclusions show that a 70 decibels noise is more likely to lead to better performances, rather than 50 decibels sounds, while louder sounds (more than 85db) are disturbing.

The explanations refer to the lack of noise conducting to “thinking in a box”. In other words, this happens when you are too focused on a specific task and find no solution for it. The rational approach is to leave it for a while and come back to solve it. Thus relatively noisy environments provide these specific requirements, but don’t rush into wrong conclusions: this theory applies to creative tasks and not to those requiring to pay special attention to details.

Science in practice

These results were nonetheless exploited and put to work. Several app developers put up tens of pre-recorded audio-s that display day-to-day background-sound situations. Starting from weather phenomena, public spaces and even specific times of the day in a cafeteria, you would swear they’re all authentic. Some are, yet some are not, thus specialists even classify them by sound quality.

Why café-s?

The answer is neither simple nor deductible. It actually seems that coffee shops in particular convey a specific atmosphere, due to a fortunate combination of pleasant sounds, rich smell of coffee or food and a continuous perception of being surrounded by people. Creativity gets a high dosage of boost, while tasks seem more approachable.

This is why Coffitivity was launched more than 3 years ago (launched 4th of March 2013): to bring the concept of background sounds to a whole different level and enhance the performance of working in rather stressful environments. If interested in Coffitivity, don’t miss the chance of listening to their soundtracks either on your computer or mobile. It’s fascinating how random details got caught up on their recordings.

Instead of conclusion,

We’d like to reference more useful articles referring to public space noises and wrongly considered disturbing sounds (NYT, FC, Research). If you’ve ever wondered why are there so many people working online in random cafeterias, the answer is always the same: because science. Remember it. They don’t actually know why.

Science does.

Author: Cristina Pandrea

1 comment

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