Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Why Ambient Noise Makes You More Productive

There are hundreds of white noise apps on the App Store, but only some of them helped us focus on our writing. Here’s a bit of science behind the mechanism at work, and the best apps we found for putting it in practice.

Too restless for silence, I have long been on the hunt for the perfect mood music for writing. So when I found myself using the new iOS app Thunderspace more and more to help me focus and stay productive, I started wondering why it worked so well.

It's not that I was skeptical of Thunderspace at first--it's just that I didn’t care how this gloried white-noise app worked under the hood. Lots of people work with some sort of ambient noise, thinking it makes them more productive. Thunderspace made me wonder if the theory was actually proveable.

Researchers Ravi Mehta, Rui (Juliet) Zhu, and Amar Cheem--who don’t make apps, but had the same question--tested the hypothesis, filling in some big holes around sound research along the way.

Publishing "Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition," in the Journal of Consumer Research, they did indeed find that a moderate level of ambient noise actually does boost creativity for most people. So I redoubled my hunt for ambient noise apps. Here’s what I found.
First, quality matters. The Thunderspace app comes courtesy of the same people who do the weather app Haze, as well as the Emmy-award winning nature sound recordist, Gordon Hempton. There are two factors that set it apart from other "rain sounds," of which there are hundreds. First is that the storms were recorded in stereoscopic 3-D, designed for headphones at an impressive 256kpbs AAC. Also, despite the high-quality sound, the app came in under a 50mb download, a sign the developer was deliberate with the design and resources.

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