According to research data from 2012, people reach peak creative performance under moderately noisy conditions—70 decibels, to be precise. This is roughly equivalent to the chatter in your local coffee shop or restaurant on a fairly busy day. As to why this is the case, the scientists who authored the study have a theory:
“We theorize that a moderate (vs. low) level of ambient noise is likely to induce processing disfluency or processing difficulty, which activates abstract cognition and consequently enhances creative performance. A high level of noise, however, reduces the extent of information processing, thus impairing creativity.”
Translation: silence isn’t as golden as it sounds. Absolute noiselessness tends to focus our attention, which is helpful for tasks that entail accuracy, fine detail, and linear reasoning, such as balancing our checkbook or fixing a Swiss watch. It’s less supportive of the broad, big-picture, abstract mind-wandering that leads to fresh perspectives.
On the other hand, excessive noise overwhelms our sensory apparatus and hinders our ability to properly process information at all. In between lies the sweet spot—noise not so loud that we can’t hear ourselves think, and not so quiet that we can’t help but hear ourselves think.
The keyboard is all well and good for articulating certain thoughts and ideas, but relying on typed text could be shortchanging your ability to generate novel insights. Here are a few reasons why doodling and other forms of visual thinking can boost professional performance and personal wellbeing:
Ideas are often fleeting. Doodling helps us concretize our initial thoughts quickly and intuitively, thereby lessening the risk of our forgetting them as a result of the brain’s limited capacity for retaining short-term memories.
Few ideas are born fully hatched. Doodling lets you start at as small a scale as you want and then build up as your thoughts develop and your information expands.
BRAIN AND BODY CONDITIONING
Doodling by hand can not only advance a project, it can also bolster your own mental and physical state. Numerous studies indicate that recurring motions of the hand energize regions of the brain associated with creativity and long-term neurological health.
Image credit: Writing chair. Artisan unknown. American. Early 19th century. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York.
WHY DO IT
Viewing works of art and craft can stimulate creativity by encouraging openness to new experiences and learning; promoting risk-taking; increasing pleasure, advancing health, and reducing stress; facilitating mind-wandering; and inducing saccadic eye movement, which strengthens neural connections between the brain hemispheres.
DESIGN TIP: MIX IT UP
Creative thinking eschews fixity of mind. Consider mixing up your pieces—and your thoughts—by occasionally swapping them out, acquiring electronic frames or monitors to project assorted images or video, using easily changed mounting systems, such as magnetics, or simply moving items around. You might be surprised how differently you’ll look at a work of art depending on its freshness, location, and adjacency to other pieces.
CONTENT TIP: KEEP IT POSITIVE
Strive for positive affect. Mood arousal is a powerful engine of creativity. Be sure you derive happiness from what you collect. Work that raises stress levels or causes emotional distress could have an unintentionally negative effect on out-of-the-box thinking.
Image credit: Photography studio of Nicholas Yarsley. Gloucestershire, United Kingdom. Architecture, interior design, and photography by Nicholas Yarsley.