The reason you get more work done at coffee shops is not what you think

For every 20 failed cafe screenplays you attempt to write at a coffee shop,(“It’s like Something About Mary meets The Woodsman”) there’s always one that grazes success. But why are creative types drawn to coffee shops and why do they feel they work better there? There may actually be some science to it.

This phenomenon is in part affected by a neurobiological experience known as stochastic resonance (SR) and its logic is sort of counter-intuitive. Basically, sometimes noise and chaos can lend form to our thoughts. Like the pathways that divide a maze.

Less dramatically, SR denotes the mess of sensory elements that contributes to heightened focus in mammals. Crickets, wind, and panicky deer grunts can help a wolf hone in on its prey just like an espresso machine, Alanis Morissette and millennials debating whether or not Adam Driver is handsome can get you to your own personal finish line. Whatever that might be, research seems to support the value of interruptions.

“Random noise can enhance the detectability of weak signals in nonlinear systems, a phenomenon known as stochastic resonance (SR). This concept is not only applicable to single threshold systems but can also be applied to dynamical systems with multiple attractor states, such as observed during the phenomenon of binocular rivalry,” the authors of a recent study published in the National Library of Medicine wrote.

It may vary slightly from person to person, but there’s appears to be a degree to which a location can be too busy for one to adequately maintain cognitive performance.

The research literature (which is surprisingly rich) indicates that the reasoning is multifaceted. In a recent meta-analysis published in Work-Life, Sunkee Lee, assistant professor of organizational theory and strategy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business in Pennsylvania, explains the effect working near people who are also working has on our…well, work.

Either through solidarity or something primitive and competitive, animals like to realize efforts in groups.

“It’s analogous to going to the gym for a workout,” Dr. Lee explained in the report. “One of the biggest things about coffee shops is the social-facilitation effect: you go there, you see other people working and it puts you in a mood where you just naturally start working as well. Just observing them can motivate you to work harder. The combination of noise, casual crowds and visual variety can give us just the right amount of distraction to help us be our sharpest and most creative

Visual stimulation – how the office is decorated – has an effect on people’s creative thinking process. [It] is called convergent creative thinking,”

Productivity isn’t the only thing beholden to these metrics. The authors of a paper published in the journal, Food Quality & Preference determined that loud conditions directly affect the degree of bitterness, acidity, sweetness, and aroma perceived by a drinker.

“Results suggest that most consumers tend to be less sensitive to specific sensory and hedonic attributes of the coffee under louder noise (sweetness, bitterness, acidity, flavor/aroma intensity, flavor-liking, sound-liking, flavor-sound-matching), and less willing to pay and purchase the coffee, relative to less loud sounds,” the authors wrote.

Academicians have even proposed using distractions has a therapy of sorts for victims of trauma and mental instability.

“The ability to shift our attention away from negative experiences is also helpful outside of a hospital setting. Distractions can help us cope with the pains of everyday life. Research on how distractions can be used to control our urges and impulses show that certain games, like Tetris, can help reduce cravings for fatty foods and even addictive drugs,” psychology author, Nir Eyal writes.

It’s probably not a coincidence that we make the best stuff when we’re not suppressing the things vying for our attention. Irrespective of intent, balance very likely requires a choir of input. Overhearing the right dumb thing just might make your dumb thing a little less dumb.

After all, Jk Rowling reportedly drafted the entire Harry Potter series in a cafe. The jury is still out on where she drafts her tweets.