The soundtrack for creativity

The soundtrack for life

Didn’t you wish that life was more like in the movies? When there’s a good turn of events, a happy, lively tune is played in the background. Everyone seems to sway and smile and dance their lives according to the music played, the sun shines brighter, the colors of the things around are popping out, the wind blows in the right direction making the hair flow not too crazy, but just right. Take the music out and it is not the same thing. Or try and match a sad or a loud and wacko tune to the whole picture described above. It doesn’t work out well. I believe that for every moment of our lives there is a perfect tune out there that will enhance that moment and make it memorable.

Design Cafe

The question

The question explored today is this: What kind of soundtrack goes for creativity? It turns out that the sound of silence will not do. As maintained by the published research article from Ravi Mehta, a professor of business administration, ambient background noise proves to be an important factor influencing creativity and creative cognition among consumers.
"We found that ambient noise is an important antecedent for creative cognition," Mehta said. "A moderate level of noise not only enhances creative problem-solving but also leads to a greater adoption of innovative products in certain settings.”

Noise, but not too much noise

Mehta and co-authors Rui (Juliet) Zhu, of the University of British Columbia, and Amar Cheema, of the University of Virginia, examine how a moderate-level of ambient noise (about 70 decibels, equivalent to a passenger car traveling on a highway) improves performance on creative tasks and amplifies the likelihood of consumers buying innovative products.
In parallel, the researchers also studied how a high level of noise (85 decibels, equivalent to traffic noise on a major road) hurts creativity by reducing information processing.

"What we found is that there's an inverted-U relationship between noise level and creativity," Mehta said. "It turns out that around 70 decibels is the sweet spot. If you go beyond that, it's too loud, and the noise starts to negatively affect creativity. It's the Goldilocks principle -- the middle is just right.”

The researchers showed that a high level of noise is hindering creativity by diverting the attentional resources needed in the information processing.
So, too loud the music will make one pay attention to the “noise”, it doesn’t help in focusing that attention to the problem at hand that needs a creative solution.

"An increased level of distraction makes you think 'out-of-the-box' -- what we call abstract thinking or abstract processing, which is a hallmark of increased creativity," Mehta said. "But when you start to go beyond that moderate level of noise what happens is that distraction becomes so huge that it really starts affecting the thought process. You really can't process information because the distraction is so pronounced. And that is what inhibits creativity.”
"So a moderate level of noise produces just enough distraction to lead to higher creativity, but a very high level of noise induces too much distraction, which actually reduces the amount of processing, thus leading to lower creativity.”

Practical implications

The researchers, show the important practical implications of their study for inducing consumer behavior and increasing the purchasing new and innovative products.

"We studied this in a consumer environment because previous research has only considered white noise or pink noise" -- a variant of white noise, which sounds like the static buzz of an off-air TV station -- "which you don't really find in consumer environments," Mehta said. "So in this case we used everyday multi-talker noise to find out how it affects consumer behavior in a consumption environment. In order to encourage adoption of new and innovative products, marketers might consider equipping their showrooms with a moderate level of ambient noise.”

The study is not only relevant to consumer research, but also to creative problem-solving in general. Even to logo design work, we might add. :)

"This is research that people can relate to almost immediately. Our findings imply that instead of burying oneself in a quiet room trying to figure out a solution, walking outside of one's comfort zone and getting into a relatively noisy environment like a cafe may actually trigger the brain to think abstractly, and thus generate creative ideas," Mehta said.

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