1. The title of the article is "Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition". The purpose of this research is to determine the effects of low, moderate, and high noise levels on creativity within a consumer context. The authors of the study propose that low- and moderate-levels of noise enhance abstract thinking processes in creative individuals. The researchers also propose a mechanism called processing difficulty -- or "disfluency" -- which causes a higher "construal level" that, in turn, causes individuals to engage in more abstract thinking. Furthermore, individuals who are more-predisposed to being creative, the researchers argue, have shown (in previous research) to engage in more creative thinking when listening to certain levels of white noise. White noise is a combination of all frequencies of sound (Mehta, Rui & Cheema, 2012, p. 787).
2. This study was a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods (Mehta et al., p. 787). Participants were subjected to low- (50 dB), moderate- (70 dB), and high-noise (~85 dB) levels, as well as a control (a normal level of background noise). Subjects sat in front of computer monitors, and were scored on a test called the Remote Associates Test (RAT), a test that is designed to assess creativity. They were also asked questions about their current feelings, using a seven-point adjective test. Thus, the five experiments conducted used a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods.
3. The independent variable was the background noise while the dependent variable was the levels of assessed creativity using the RAT. Five experiments were conducted, which helped eliminate other dependent variables or confounding variables. Across the five experiments, results were very standardized.
4. The first experiment used 65 undergraduate students (46 women) from the University of British Columbia. The study was called the "Restaurant Experience Study", and was conducted in exchange for one course credit. Two speakers were used, and students were placed in a semi-circle at one of four desks. For each trial, the volume of the speakers was adjusted to fit the experimental conditions. Experiment 2 replicated Experiment 1, whereas Experiment 3 did not use the high-noise (~85 dB) condition. The subjects were asked to think of as many creative uses of a brick that they possibly could (Mehta et al., p. 788). Arousal levels, including heart rate and blood pressure, were also measured. Subjects' levels of distraction were measured using a seven-point scale, so as to avoid a confounding variable between ease of retrieval and creative processing. In Experiments 4 and Experiments 5, similar procedures were used, and number of ideas generated was the dependent variable measured.
5. The researchers' stated hypothesis was that those subjects who were exposed to low- and moderate- levels of ambient noise would measure higher on the RAT, as well as in ideas generated on the other experiments (Mehta et al., p. 788).
6. The researchers had a high level of confidence in their hypothesis that creative individuals would score higher when exposed to moderate levels of ambient noise, based on their review of previous studies.
7. They also found a very high causal relationship between moderate-noise exposure and higher creative output, indicating more abstract thinking among creative individuals. This, in turn, will lead creative people to adopt innovative products more readily.
8. The researchers offered a new theory of creative cognition that can contribute to innovative product adoption with regard to consumption of goods (Mehta et al., p. 796). This theory posits that marketers and advertisers might benefit by equipping their showrooms with moderate levels of ambient noise to encourage creative purchasing decisions.
9. Finally, the researchers recommended that differences need to be determined between the effects of noise valence and decibel volume, with regards to influencing creativity, citing these possible differences as limitations of the study. Another serious limitation of this research is that it only focused on a very small demographic and sample size, predominantly females who are University students.
Mehta, R., Zhu, R. & Cheema, A. (2012). Is noise always bad? exploring the effects of ambient noise on creative cognition. Journal of Consumer Research(39):4, 784-799. doi: 10.1086/665048