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Coffee Shop Noise Boosts Creativity, Science Says

Coffee Shop Noise Boosts Creativity, Science Says

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New website promotes creativity with ambient coffee shop noise

Wikimedia/ Mortefot

We've certainly spent our fair share of hours working in our local Starbucks, but we always thought it was for the free Wi-Fi. But it turns out the background noise in your average coffee shop is ideal for boosting creativity.

According to the New York Times, research has shown that complete silence makes it pretty hard to be creative, but a really loud area is distracting and irritating. Coincidentally, a mixture of semi-quiet background noise like one finds in a normal coffee shop is just about the ideal environment when one needs to concentrate and be creative at the same time. Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign had test subjects brainstorm ideas for projects in rooms with varying amounts of background noise. They found that noise around 70 decibels, like that found in a coffee shop, enhanced performance compared with the noise in quiet rooms or much noisier rooms.

“It helps you think outside the box,” said lead researcher Ravi Mehta, who suggested that extreme silence makes one focus too closely on the problem, which prevents a person from thinking in the abstract.

“This is why if you’re too focused on a problem and you’re not able to solve it,” he said, “you leave it for some time and then come back to it and you get the solution.”

If one wants the boost without actually having to go to a coffee shop (maybe you have good Wi-Fi at home), a new website called Coffitivity provides the ambient background noise of a coffee shop so users can get all the brain-boosting benefits of a coffee shop environment without actually having to leave the house or office.

Science Proves You Should Be Studying at Coffee Shops Instead of the Library

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Besides the obvious proximity to a caffeine source, have you ever wondered why you study better in coffee shops? Research shows that coffee shop ambiance increases creativity, alertness, and ability to learn. So grab the comfiest couch and let the magic of the cafe help you ace your exams.


Gif courtesy of

A study from the University of Illinois found that individuals came up with more creative product ideas when exposed to ambient sound at around 70 decibels – the average volume of a bustling coffee shop. Research shows that a semi-distracting background helps you think more broadly and outside-the-box. Rumor has it the selfie stick was even invented in a Starbucks.


Caffeine doesn’t actually wake you up. It inhibits the sleep hormone, adenosine, and energizes the brain. Coffee or high-caffeine teas can be just what you need to concentrate and crush a complicated task, and what better place to be productive than the source of never-ending caffeine?

Fewer Distractions

If you go out of your way to do some work at a coffee shop, chances are you won’t give up and procrastinate away your time once you get there. You’re also unlikely to be bothered, especially if you appear to be working.

Ability to Learn

Studies have shown that 200 millligrams of caffeine (approximately the size of a venti Starbucks latte) allows the brain to identify words and phrases more quickly. Caffeine can also improve problem-solving skills and memory. So the next time you have to learn macroeconomics the night before a final, head over to you local coffee shop and order a large – or extra large.

So grab your cappuccino and scone, pull up to an outlet and let the coffee shop do it’s magic.

Scientists Say Ambient Noise Affects Creativity

“We found that ambient noise is an important antecedent for creative cognition,” said Ravi Mehta, a professor of business administration at the University of Illinois. “A moderate level of noise not only enhances creative problem-solving but also leads to a greater adoption of innovative products in certain settings.”

The new study, published online in the Journal of Consumer Research, explores how a moderate-level of ambient noise (about 70 decibels, equivalent to a passenger car traveling on a highway) enhances performance on creative tasks and increases the likelihood of consumers purchasing innovative products.

Similarly, 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,” Prof.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.”

Using background noise commonly found in consumers’ lives, the team shows that, as noise increases, so does one’s level of distraction.

“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,” Prof. Mehta explained. “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.”

The findings should be useful for both advertisers and marketers, who typically strive to increase adoption rates of 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,” Prof. 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.”

“This is research that people can relate to almost immediately,” the scientist said. “I’m working in a coffee shop – how does the noise in the background volume of the music affect my performance?”

“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,” Prof. Mehta concluded.

33 Surprising Ways to Boost Creativity for Free

We already know being creative can make us happier and healthier. But while we may think of creativity in terms of writing a novel or painting a masterpiece, experts say it can really mean anything from trying a new recipe to submitting an original idea during a meeting.

Here we’ve got 33 fun ways to fire up that creative spark, from having a drink to taking a nap—seriously.

1. Listen to music.

Jamming out stimulates the part of our brain that controls motor actions, emotions, and creativity.Large-scale brain networks emerge from dynamic processing of musical timbre, key and rhythm. Alluri V, Toiviainen P, Jääskeläinen IP. NeuroImage, 2011, Nov.59(4):1095-9572. Classical music might give us an extra boost: According to “The Mozart Effect,” listening to Mozart can increase creativity, concentration, and other cognitive functions. Though it’s not clear if this effect works for everyone, but a little classical music probably won’t hurt.

2. Meditate.

Stuck in a mental rut? When panic strikes, try meditating: It promotes divergent thinking, a state of mind in which we’re able to generate new ideas.

3. Get someone else’s opinion.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. A friend might mention something that sparks a whole new stream of thought. The more ideas and perspectives, the better.

4. Think about something far away.

Research suggests our ability to solve problems improves when we think about events far off in the past or future or in another location. So picture New Year’s Eve 2022 or dining at a café in Paris and let your imagination go.

5. Write by hand.

Carrie Barron, M.D., and Alton Barron, M.D., authors of The Creativity Cure, advise us to skip the Word doc and pick up a pen instead. Sometimes the whole experience of writing by hand—the ink on our fingers, the smell of a fresh notebook—is all it takes to get creative juices flowing.

6. Daydream.

What was I saying? Oh, right. We tend to take a more creative approach to problems when our mind is wandering (less so when we’re hunched over a computer with a deadline looming). So don’t worry about zoning out for a few minutes.

7. Look at something blue or green.

These colors tend to enhance performance on cognitive tasks. Researchers say that’s because we associate blue with the ocean, sky, and openness in general, while green signals growth. Check out that globe the next time a problem pops up.Blue or red? Exploring the effect of color on cognitive task performances. Mehta R, Zhu RJ. Science (New York, N.Y.), 2009, Feb.323(5918):1095-9203. Fertile green: green facilitates creative performance. Lichtenfeld S, Elliot AJ, Maier MA. Personality & social psychology bulletin, 2012, Mar.38(6):1552-7433.

8. Gesture with two hands.

Odd but true: One study found using two hands to explain something prompts the brain to consider issues from multiple perspectives.Embodied metaphors and creative “acts”. Leung AK, Kim S, Polman E. Psychological science, 2012, Apr.23(5):1467-9280. (It’s also possible that using the left hand stimulates creative thought, since left-handed people tend to be more creative in general.)

9. Sit outside a box.

Though it might sound a little strange, in one study, people who sat outside a box (literally) were better at thinking creatively than people who sat in it.Embodied metaphors and creative “acts”. Leung AK, Kim S, Polman E. Psychological science, 2012, Apr.23(5):1467-9280. No cardboard container handy? Try sitting in the hallway outside a room.

10. Have some booze.

In one study, participants who knocked back an average of three drinks were more creative than people who didn’t drink at all.Uncorking the muse: alcohol intoxication facilitates creative problem solving. Jarosz AF, Colflesh GJ, Wiley J. Consciousness and cognition, 2012, Jan.21(1):1090-2376. That’s possibly because a little alcohol lets us think more broadly, finding connections between unrelated ideas. But hey, keep it classy: There’s nothing creative about a pile of vomit or other less desirable outcomes.

11. Lie down.

Research found people were better at solving anagrams when they were lying down versus sitting up.Thinking on your back: solving anagrams faster when supine than when standing. Lipnicki DM, Byrne DG. Brain research. Cognitive brain research, 2005, Apr.24(3):0926-6410. It might not fly in an office meeting, but test it out during the next solo brainstorming sesh.

12. Rethink labels.

Pick an object and break it into parts. (So a flower becomes stalk, leaves, petals, and pollen.) It’s called the “generic-parts technique” and people trained to think this way were better at solving problems through creative insight than people who weren’t given the training.

13. Laugh a little.

Haha, get a load of this! According to some studies, a positive mood can facilitate creativity because it boosts activity in the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex (areas of the brain associated with complex cognition, decision-making, and emotion).Better mood and better performance. Learning rule-described categories is enhanced by positive mood. Nadler RT, Rabi R, Minda JP. Psychological science, 2010, Oct.21(12):1467-9280. Even if you’re not feeling cheery, letting out a hearty chuckle can actually trigger a positive mood—so get silly to get creative.

Why You Work Best At Starbucks

[Courtesy of Men&rsquos Health] The laptop-tapping masses filling cafés may be onto something. According to a recent study, working in a setting with moderate noise&mdasharound 70 decibels, or the noise of a hoppin&rsquo coffee shop&mdashboosts creativity. (We&rsquore sure the caffeine doesn&rsquot hurt, either.)

The study tested more than 300 people in silent, moderate, and loud settings. The findings? Folks working in moderate noise scored higher on object-word association tests&mdashand gave more innovative answers&mdashthan the other two groups.

Can&rsquot leave the building&mdashor tell the boss you&rsquore working at Starbucks from now on? Find the chatter. Bring your work to the cafeteria, a common area, or just open your door every now and then for the café effect, says Amar Cheema, Ph.D., and lead researcher of the study.

All kinds of background noise gets people&rsquos brain juices flowing&mdashbut the key is letting your brain feed off of the unpredictability of what&rsquos going on around you. Try sitting in a different corner of your office, another side of your desk, or stand up.

Science Continues To Show Us How To Be More Creative

Last year I compiled a list of scientific findings around the topic of creativity in my post, "Multiple Creativity Studies Suggest: Creating Our Reality Requires Detaching From It." In it I suggested a grand theory on the topic:

Studies on coffee shop noise, daydreaming, freestyle rappers’ brains, ADHD, dim lighting, alcohol, all of it. They are all very different studies testing very different creativity influences, but are unified, I believe, in that they all describe a different way to detach from reality, or successfully inhibit our logic force.

Creative forces increase as our logic forces become distracted or otherwise less present. In short, to create our world, we must detach from it. For more on that theory, I recommend you start with the first article linked above.

Now, fast forward one year and I've discovered even more fascinating scientific studies on creativity. What we are seeing are even more tangible ways to trick ourselves into being more creative by getting ourselves - or, our reality - out of the way.

Below are brief descriptions of these new studies (some just new to me) that support my "Detachment" theory. I have provided links to the actual studies, or articles about them, for more details.

Creativity Studies, Part II:

Creativity happens at non-optimal times. (details here) We all have optimal times for complex cognitive tasks. I'm more of a morning person, you may be an afternoon or evening person. Now, it would stand to reason that our levels of creativity would map to our optimal cognitive times of day. Turns out, it's just the opposite. Psychologist Mareike Wieth and her colleagues conducted a study and found that solving problems that require creativity were more easily solved when people are least alert. Writer and Psychology Professor at the University of Chicago, Sian Beilock, explains it this way:

Sometimes people's ability to think about information in new and unusual ways can actually be hampered when they wield too much brainpower.

Great example of detaching from reality here. In this case, the fatigue that limits our brainpower from getting in the way of creativity.

Being painfully bored yields more creative thinking. (details here) This study from the University Of Central Lancaster bored participants silly by making them copy down phone numbers from a phonebook, among other things. When compared to a control group who did not have to face the boring task, evidence of "divergent thinking" (scientific way of saying creativity) was significantly greater in those who first completed the boring task.

The conclusion from the study is that the daydreaming caused by the boring task was the creative catalyst. That may be, but to me the menial task of copying down phone numbers the logic force a false sense of security. The boring task allowed the logic force to go back into its logical shell. Nothing to see here. And with the logic force off guard, these participants were open to more divergent thinking immediately following the boring task. Reality detached.

Messy workspaces increase creativity. (details here) University of Minnesota researchers, Kathleen D. Vohs, Joseph P. Redden, and Ryan Rahinel, have proven through a unique study that a chaotic (read, messy) environment can improve creativity. They asked two groups of college students to individually conduct a creative exercise that involved dreaming up new applications for the ping-pong ball. One group was in a messy room. The other in a perfectly straight and orderly room. The group who performed in the messy room showed significantly greater creativity than the group in the room that was neat as a pin. The researchers concluded,

Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights.

Or it might be that their logic forces were overwhelmed by the mess and shut down, leaving their creative abilities to their own devices. Funny how easy it can be to subdue creativity's kryptonite. Reality detached.

Walking increase creativity. (details here) Here's a study from Stanford doctoral grad, Marily Oppezzo, and Daniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Eduction, that shows that the simple act of walking can dramatically increase creativity. The study divided participants into various conditions: walking indoors on a treadmill, sitting indoors, walking outdoors, sitting outdoors while being pushed in a wheelchair (to eliminate the variable of "being outdoors"). Each group was asked to perform a creative task. Turns out, the creative output for those walking (even indoors on a treadmill) increased by as much as 60%.

To me, this study addresses any menial task - taking a shower, running, chopping wood, washing dishes, etc. I've heard many people wonder why ideas hit them while doing "something else." I would suggest that these menial tasks, including walking, give our logic forces something to do. Occupied, our creativity is free to take over. Reality detached.

Mild psychosis liberates creativity. (details here) Creativity is a result of putting things together that are not obvious. In the case of comedians, what we find as funny is usually the result of the comic's ability to make such absurd, but truthful, connections. Oxford University conducted a study of 404 male and 119 female comedians to asses their personality types. Turns out, comedians scored "significantly higher on all four types of psychotic personality traits" (including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia). That's not to say all comedians are nuts. The study does say that full blown bipolar disorder or schizophrenia decreases creativity. So it's the mild forms that prove creatively potent.

For more on this study as it relates to Robin Williams' recent passing, see fellow contributor, Alice Walton's, "Robin Williams' Death Underscores Connection Between Creativity, Depression And Addiction."

Comics, particularly of the improv sort, are the epitome of creativity to me. Is there a better example of detaching from reality than mild psychoses? Reality detached.

You may want to sit down for this one. It's mighty. (details here) Could it be that consciousness is an electromagnetic field separate from our brains? That's what Professor Johnjoe McFadden, from the School of Biomedical and Life Sciences at the University of Surrey, is theorizing. Neuroscientists recognize that brain activity that we're aware of (consciousness) is different from the activities driving unconscious actions (like your ability to read this, walking, putting a blinker on, etc.). But they don't know why. McFadden theorizes that we all have a separate electromagnetic field surrounding our brains that is essentially our conscious will.

Click the link above for more details. It's complex. But if it's true that consciousness is separate from our brains, might that be further proof that what I'm calling "logic" may just be our brains. And what I'm calling "creativity" may just be this separate electromagnetic field? I know, it's heady stuff. But my point is, it could be that our nature already has us detached from our reality (as this electromagnetic field), if we can only allow it to flourish.

What's it all mean?

My takeaway with all of these studies is that my creativity, your creativity, and everyone else's creativity is not a fixed sum. If we can find ways to subdue our logic forces, then our creative forces will have room to breathe.

What these studies give us is an arsenal of tools to choose from to do just that. Some may work for you, some may not, but try a few (list is from this and my previous post):

  • Walk when you need ideas - anywhere
  • Allow your creativity spaces (e.g. your desk) to be a little messy
  • Bore yourself prior to creative periods
  • Leave creative time to your off moments (when you're too tired to get in your own way)
  • Work in a busy coffee shop for the noise
  • Find ways to daydream more
  • Imagine yourself in Paris when ideating (psychological distance)
  • Dim the lighting
  • Try a little alcohol when it's time to ideate (but not too much)
  • Enjoy your ADHD if you have it to any degree when you need to be creative, it helps

Hopefully at least one of these methods will help you successfully detach from your own reality, resulting in more great ideas for you, and a better world for us.

Need background noise to work? That ‘coffee shop effect’ can boost performance

Do you feel you're better focused on the job with a little light background jazz or coffee shop chatter compared to pin-drop silence? Scientists might know why.

According to Onno van der Groen, a researcher with Australia's Edith Cowan University school of medical and health sciences, some background noise can actually be beneficial for our senses. This phenomenon is called "stochastic resonance."

First studied in animals, stochastic resonance experiments suggest "sensory signals can be enhanced by noise and improve behaviour in various animals," van der Groen wrote for The Conversation last week. "For example, crayfish were shown to be better at avoiding predators when a small amount of random electrical currents were added to their tail fins. Paddlefish caught more plankton when small currents were added to the water."

In human experiments, where noise levels were manipulated by getting participants to listen to noisy sounds or feel random vibrations on the skin, people were better able to see, hear and feel at “a certain optimum noise level.” If it were too loud, however, performance dropped.

Van der Groen pointed out that stochastic resonance has several real life applications for humans, too. "Adding noise to the feet of people with vibrating insoles can improve balance performance in elderly adults," he wrote. For patients with diabetes or those recovering from stroke, this can also be used to augment muscle function.

His own research has found that when brain currents are applied to participants' brains with random noise stimulation, "it improved how well they could see a low-quality image." When he and other researchers applied the same technique to other groups, they noticed "decisions were more accurate and faster when brain cell noise levels are tuned up." Transcranial random noise stimulation also influenced what participants saw during a visual illusion, suggesting noise could help people approach a situation from multiple perspectives.

But the thing about stochastic resonance is it differs from person to person.

The optimal amount of noise for top-notch cognitive function depends on a variety of factors, such as brain variability. Excessive brain variability, van der Groen wrote, is common in those with autism, dyslexia, ADHD and schizophrenia. Elderly folks also tend to have more brain noise (or brain variability) than younger individuals.

However, because brain noise can be altered with random noise stimulation, van der Groen believes there are opportunities to explore “interventions or devices to manipulate noise levels, which could improve cognitive functioning in health and disease.”

For example, a study of children with ADHD found white noise delivered specifically through Etymotic earphones at 77 decibels improved memory and concentration.

Plenty of downloadable ambient, white and "pink" noise apps have also popped up in recent years. There's Coffitivity, which plays an infinite loop of coffee-shop sounds — and Noisli, which suggests different sounds for different goals. If you want to improve productivity, you might mix raindrops and train tracks. For those who want to relax, listen to crashing waves.

Generally, ambient noise is ideal for creativity, white noise is sound for concentration and pink noise might be most helpful in improving sleep quality. But remember, finding stochastic resonance isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. Play around and see which background noises and volumes work best for you.

Coffee Shop Noise Boosts Creativity, Science Says - Recipes

Earlier today, I got a story pitch on the "office of the future" that featured the following bullet points:

  1. Remote Work Will be the New Norm: According to recent Fuze research, 83 percent of workers don't think they need to be in an office to be productive, and 38 percent said they would enjoy their job more if they were allowed to work remotely.
  2. Physical Space Will Shrink: We'll see more companies shift to a more collaborative office space model with workspaces that bring together teams, spark conversation, and create the best ideas.
  3. Traditional Desks Will Disappear: The so-called cubicle farm will become a distant memory and people will start embracing an environment that suits their needs -- whether it be a table at a coffee shop, a standing desk, or collaboration space.
  4. "Office Hours" Will Become Obsolete: The workday isn't 9 to 5 anymore, it's 24/7. In fact, a recent Fidelity survey found that Millennials will take a pay cut for a more flexible work environment.

The list (which is very much "conventional wisdom") illustrates the crazy-making way that companies think about open-plan offices. Can you see the disconnect? Bullets 1 and 4 are saying that people don't want to work in an office, while bullets 2 and 3 are defining the very office environment where people don't want to work.

And isn't that the sad truth? Most people would rather work at home and or tolerate angry stares from the other patrons in a coffee shop (should one need to make a call) than try to get something done in an open-plan office.

In previous posts, I've provided links to numerous studies showing that open-plan offices are both a productivity disaster and a false economy. (The productivity drain more than offsets the savings in square footage.) I've even posted some videos showing how wretched (and in some cases ridiculous) these environments truly are.

Well, just in case you weren't yet convinced, here's some new evidence from a study of more than 40,000 workers in 300 U.S. office buildings--by far the most comprehensive research on this issue. The results, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, came to the following conclusion:

"Enclosed private offices clearly outperformed open-plan layouts in most aspects of IEQ (Indoor Environmental Quality), particularly in acoustics, privacy and the proxemics issues. Benefits of enhanced 'ease of interaction' were smaller than the penalties of increased noise level and decreased privacy resulting from open-plan office configuration."

Don't let the jargon confuse you. The term "proxemics issues" refers to how people feel uncomfortable when they're forced into close proximity with other people. To be perfectly clear, here's what the paragraph says: "Open-plan offices aren't worth it."

BTW, it isn't just the noise and the interruptions that cause people to hate open-plan offices. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article:

"All of this social engineering has created endless distractions that draw employees' eyes away from their own screens. Visual noise, the activity or movement around the edges of an employee's field of vision, can erode concentration and disrupt analytical thinking or creativity."

Unlike noise pollution, which can be remedied with a pair of headsets, there's no way to block out the visual pollution, short of throwing a towel over your head and screen like a toddler's play tent.

So, getting back to the story pitch and the conventional wisdom it represents: Yes, indeed, people want to work at home, and yes, indeed, they're willing to take a cut in pay to get away from the open-plan office that you've offered them.

What's weird is that the people who design office spaces and the executives who hire them don't see the connection. They seem unable to understand that forcing open-plan offices down everyone's throat is not only ruining productivity but it's actively driving good employees to avoid to coming into the office.

Dear Executive: Do you want your employees to come into the office and work long hours while they're there? THEN GIVE THEM PRIVATE OFFICES. At the very least, give them high-walled cubicles that provide a modicum of privacy.

For crying out loud, is this really that difficult a concept to understand?

This column will change your life: coffee and creativity

'Delightedly he seized hold of the bag containing the sugar and poured sugar into the coffee cup until it was piled above the rim," writes one biographer of Søren Kierkegaard. "Next came the incredibly strong black coffee, which slowly dissolved the white pyramid." The Danish philosopher was overdoing it: perhaps it's no coincidence that his books include Fear And Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death. But coffee addicts, myself included, relish anecdotes such as this because they reinforce our belief that coffee and creativity are linked. It's not merely that caffeine is the "acceptable addiction", as it's sometimes called it's something actively to boast about: "Oh, you don't want to meet me before my morning coffee," we say, with something close to pride. Try replacing "coffee" in that sentence with "heroin". The effect isn't quite the same.

So you can imagine the horror provoked by recent suggestions that coffee might actually impair creativity: I nearly spat my coffee over my keyboard in shock. (I didn't really. Nobody ever has. Ever.) The argument, outlined in a review of the recent research by Maria Konnikova in the New Yorker, runs like this. In neurochemical terms, caffeine doesn't "give" you energy really, it just delays the point at which you feel tired. The resulting mind-state is one of narrow focus and "hyper-vigilance": great for ploughing through predetermined tasks, but poor for the insightful forging of connections between disparate ideas.

"Creative insights and imaginative solutions often occur when we stop working on a particular problem and let our mind move on to something unrelated," Konnikova writes. Focus, caffeine-induced or not, isn't enough. We need the mind-wandering, too.

But must we really cut back on coffee to get it? There's anecdotal evidence to the contrary on almost every page of Mason Currey's new book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, to be published in the UK in October. That's where I found the Kierkegaard story, one of numerous accounts of spectacularly creative yet coffee-enslaved souls. (Beethoven, Sartre and Mahler were all addicts Honoré de Balzac crushed coffee beans and ate the powder, though to be fair he also keeled over and died at 51.) One thing these tales illustrate is that it's only partly about the caffeine. My coffee ritual (which involves a burr grinder and a cafetiere) is deeply comforting, even meditative.

Also, it slides me into the working day before my procrastinatory urges can kick in: grind beans, brew coffee, plunge, pour, sip, open laptop… and I'm working before I've had a chance to protest. And mid-morning coffee breaks, alone or with colleagues, are full of mind-wandering. Caffeine may not relax our focus, but getting coffee certainly does.

So I wasn't too surprised to learn, from yet another recent coffee-related study, that modest ambient noise, such as the background buzz of a coffee shop, prompts more creative ideas than quieter settings. There's even a web service that pipes a cafe-style hum into your headphones at your office or at home. Meanwhile, it's been discovered that even if you give people decaf coffee, they'll get sharper at certain tasks – just so long as you tell them they're drinking full-caf. The rituals of coffee, the surroundings in which it's drunk, the beliefs we have about it: they're as potent a brew as the brew itself.

But how much is too much?

Of course, there can be too much of a good thing when it comes to coffee. Once you start drinking more than five cups a day, or 500-600 milligrams of caffeine, your body starts feeling over-caffeinated.

The Mayo Clinic notes that side effects from drinking too much coffee include irritability, upset stomach, rapid heartbeat, muscle tremors, and restlessness. Some caffeine-sensitive people start feeling these effects with much less coffee.

As coffee enthusiasts will tell you, drinking java is addicting, and drinking it too close to bedtime can keep you up at night. Of course, one option to avoid the jitters from too much caffeine is to switch to decaf. You’ll still get some of coffee’s positive health benefits without the nervous energy.

For most people, however, drinking coffee in moderation will translate to improved performance at work. So fire up the espresso machine, get out the coffee grinder, or go find the filters. It’s time for for a fresh cup of coffee!

Suzy Frisch

Suzy is an award-winning journalist and writer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She started out as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and has worked as an editor for Twin Cities Business magazine. Suzy loves discovering people's stories and making complex topics easy to understand. Outside of work, she enjoys doing triathlons and going on adventures with her husband and three daughters.
Read more by Suzy Frisch »

Watch the video: Coffee Shop Sounds for Study and Concentration