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Listen to music while you work? The background chatter of a radio is actually the perfect environment for creativity.

The silence of a library might be great for reading, but noise sparks creativity.

Researchers say, ‘moderate’ background radio noise, like music or even talking, is better than silence to spark creativity at work. It has to be the right level with 70 decibels, the suggested ideal, which is about the same as the noise made by a car driving past.

It’s the ‘Goldilocks Principle’, said University of Illinois business professor Ravi Mehta, who studied the way a brain processes information against different levels of background noise.

Not enough noise and the mind tends to have little or no stimulation. Too loud and the distractions are too great. The middle is “just right,” said Mehta.

As a guide, 70 decibels is about the noise made by one ordinary-sized car going past – a line of cars, by comparison, would make around 85 decibels.

A beeping horn makes 110 decibels, but a conversation at a nearby dinner table would be more like 60 decibels.

According to Professor Mehta, “A moderate level of noise not only enhances creative problem-solving, but also leads to a greater adoption of innovative products in certain settings. 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.”

He added, “An increased level of distraction makes you think ‘out-of-the-box’, what we call abstract thinking or abstract processing, a hallmark of increased creativity. 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.”

It means that for those who like to work on their own, for instance, would be better off in a moderately busy coffee shop, instead of at home in silence.

Mehta says, “This is research that people can relate to almost immediately.”

“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 may actually trigger the brain to think abstractly, and thus generate creative ideas,” Professor Mehta concludes.

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