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Coffitivity, what’s the sound of creativity?

By Sara Stefanovic
4 min read

Is noise always a bad thing? The word noise is negatively connoted, as something that distracts and annoys people, but there are background noises that seem to stimulate creativity, making people even more productive. According to the research Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition, conducted by Ravi Mehta, Rui (Juliet) Zhu and Amar Cheema some ambient noises are closely linked to creativity. The research then led to the creation of the Coffitivity website. This site was born as a side project, as a tool to support research but, later it turned into a real platform where people go to work better.

And in moments like these, when working outside the home is still out of question, we go on Coffitivity to sip a coffee and immerse ourselves in an environment full of voices and noises from our small home office. The Web site, which is free, plays an ambient coffee shop soundtrack that, according to researchers, helps people concentrate.

Coffitivity, productivity and creativity are not afraid of distractions

Working remotely has a long list of benefits, you can do things your own way! You can listen to your favorite album while working, take a break to cook a delicious breakfast, stop every 45 minutes to do push-ups, play the piano or drink your 14th cup of coffee. Nobody will think that you are crazy; you are free to do what you need to be productive. Yet we miss the little things, like going to our favorite place, working there and paying the rent of the coffee table in cups of coffee… listening to people’s comments on the latest daily news and watching the strange habits of passers-by.

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Moreover, if you are a serial procrastinator, working from home seems unbearable. Don’t give up, we may have the solution. A moderate level of ambient noise promotes creative cognition, according to a peer-reviewed study from the University of Chicago. In short, being a little distracted helps you be more creative. This is why we have great enlightening moments when brushing our teeth, taking a shower or mowing the lawn! If we’re not too focused on a task at hand, we come up with great ideas. In the coffee shop, chatter and noise actually distract us enough to let our creativity flow. Sounds crazy, but it works!

Coffitivity gives you the sounds of life on demand, even without leaving your house

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Coffitivity draws on the awareness that places with about 70 decibels of constant ambient noise can help and boost creative cognition. A higher noise level, about 85 decibels, the noise level generated by a blender or garbage disposal, is too distracting.

Ravi Mehta, an assistant professor of business administration at the university who led the research, said that extreme quiet tends to sharpen your focus. This prevents you from thinking in the abstract.

This is why if you are too focused on a problem and are unable to solve it, you leave it for some time and then go back to it and get the solution.

In other studies, he and his colleagues have found that exposure to certain colors may also play a role. Switching your computer’s background screen color to blue improves performance in creative tasks, for example, while making it red helps with detail-oriented tasks. Large, open rooms with high ceilings can also promote creative thinking.

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The creators of the Coffitivity site came up with the idea after brainstorming about another work

«We had been in and out of coffee shops, and we were getting really good work done», said ACe Callwood. One team member, Justin Kauszler, noticed that when he returned to his normal workspace, in a submissive and sterile office, his productivity faded away. When Mr. Kauszler’s boss denied his request to leave the office and work from a coffee shop, he and his colleagues decided to bring their favorite coffee shops to their workstations.

Five experiments have brought to light the correlation between background noise and creativity

Another aspect that emerged is that the most creative people are those who have reacted best to stimuli. The noise allowed them to channel their ideas and to get less distracted. This type of sound manipulation, therefore, is more effective with creative people.

On the platform it is possible to listen to various types of background noise, from the classic cafeteria background, to the university chatter to lunchtime lounge. You can listen to them here.

New soundtracks were recorded at Urban Farmhouse downtown and Bleecker Street in Snead Hall, the VCU School of Business building.

Additionally, users around the world can submit their own tracks to be included in the site’s sound library. The developers have also improved the mobile site for iOS and Android users. Users still have free and unlimited use of the site, averaging around 10,000 visitors per day.

Mr. Callwood and his colleagues at Coffitivity are creating an app and adding new bar soundtracks tailored to specific countries.

Australians apparently hate American accents. We had a rabbi reach out and say, ‘Hey, there’s a Jewish learning center that has this very distinctive sound in Hebrew,’ and he asked if we could put that kind of audio on the site. We told him that if he could get us the audio, we’ll use it.

4 min read

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