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Do Coffee Shops Make You More Creative?



Does the ambiance of a coffee-shop put you in a creative mood? If so, you are experiencing the positive benefits of ambient noise induced processing disfluency.

(I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to drop that phrase into dinner party conversation . . . )

Researchers hypothesize that being moderately distracted pushes you to a higher construct level, resulting in more abstract and creative thinking. Low levels of noise don’t create the same effect, and with higher levels the beneficial effects are outweighed by your reduced capacity to process information.

So where is that ambient noise level sweet spot? According to a recent research study, the sweet spot is around 70 decibels, or the noise level of your average coffee shop.

“For individuals looking for creative solutions to daily problems, such as planning a dinner menu based on limited supplies or generating interesting research topics to study, our findings imply that instead 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 (such as a cafe) may trigger the brain to think abstractly, and thus generate creative ideas.” (Mehta et al. 2012, p. 796).

For those of us who can’t get enough of academic papers, the full study “Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition,” is available (via subscription) from from the Journal of Consumer Research. If a single page of reading is plenty, the Atlantic profiled this research in their Study of the Day column.

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Beware . . . research findings not only point to the creativity boost of moderate ambient noise, they also point to a boost in consumer buying. More specifically, moderate ambient noise makes consumers more open to adopting innovative products – something to keep in mind if your favorite coffee shop is full of bright, shiny high-tech coffee gadgets.

Related: Choosing the Best Drip Coffee Maker

If you can’t bring yourself to the coffee shop for a creativity boost, you can also bring the coffee shop experience to you. A new app (Coffitivity) with an outstanding tagline (“Enough noise to work”) delivers coffee shop ambience straight to your headphones.

We wrote last week’s column, The Top Coffee Mugs for Geeks, while grooving to Coffitivity and the Ramones. Let us know if you could feel our heightened creativity in the comments below!

Photo Credit: Linh H. Nguyen via cc


Mehta, R., Zhu, R., & Cheema, A. (2012). Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition. The Journal Of Consumer Research, (4), 784. doi:10.1086/665048


1 Comment

  1. I would have to tend to agree with the studies findings in my own personal experience. In any task that I present myself with I have to have music or background noise or I will lose focus on what I am doing. I do believe, however; that this isn’t true for everyone, and concentration maybe more closely correlated to learning styles rather than ambient noise.

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