by: Courtney Rust
The coffee shop has long been a preferred haunt for those desirous for inspiration, motivation, and creation. It provides a safe haven for the artists, the students, the conductors of business, and all the others whose quest for an ideal workspace leads them to this place of refuge. Coffee shop inhabitation is a long-standing practice, yet a recent study published in The Journal of Consumer Research and reported on by The Atlantic, has provided scientific evidence that validates the identification of coffee shops as places of creative output. A research team led by Ravi Mehta, the Assistant Professor of Business Administration at the University of Illinois, explored the effects of ambient noise on creative cognition. A moderate level of ambient sound in the range of 70 decibels was found to create the ideal environment for creative work. This just so happens to be the same level of noise found at bustling coffee shops.
As someone who spends nearly every day in a coffee shop either working behind the counter or spreading out at a table to write, catch up on email, or finally go through the 20 open tabs I have open on my computer, these findings come as no surprise. I personally find background noise to help me turn inward and both access and release my thoughts. I find a noiseless environment to be oppressive and places with too much noise to drown out all thought and make it difficult for me to focus. A moderate level of noise cocoons me and keeps my mind from fixating on any one thing, allowing thoughts to come and go as they please.
I find coffee shops to be the ultimate place to reside. For a few dollars, you can enjoy a delicious beverage, wifi connection, outlet and restroom access, squishy armchairs, and sturdy tables at which to spread out for the entire day. The access to caffeine is another contributing force behind the ideas buzzing around your mind. The relaxed chatter of patrons, the hum of machinery, the tapping of laptop keys, and the simultaneously calming and invigorating indie-pop tunes blend together and serenade you as you chew on your pen and let thoughts spin and swirl through your mind. It creates an atmosphere in which you can work steadily and with less stress than if you were being stifled by too little noise or being battered by too much.
This recent study proves that coffee shops are legitimately good places at which to hang out and do work, but I also wonder how much of the productivity that occurs at coffee shops is a result of the associations attached to these spaces and those who occupy them. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I know that I personally choose coffee shops as my getaway place because I want, as The Little Mermaid’s Ariel lyrically said, “to be part of that world.” I want to be a member of “coffee shop crowd,” whether such a thing actually exists or if it’s just in my imagination. I head there armed with my Moleskine notebooks and decaled MacBook, clad in some of my more hipsterrific garb. I get territorial, feeling that by portraying this persona I have more of a right to tap into the mystical, creativity-inducing power of the coffee shop.
So, who can say whether or not the coffee shop possesses some of this magic simply because we imbue it with such by recognizing it as a place for the abstract-minded to dwell. It might be self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating. Do creative folks go there because they recognize it as a place to be creative or does the coffee shop become a place to be creative because the creative folks are already there being creative? Regardless, we can now use science to back up claims of the coffee shop being a valid workspace. So if your mind is in need of a kick-start to get those imaginative juices flowing, ditch the library and show your local baristas some love. I’ll see you there.
Courtney Rust is an undergraduate student at Loyola University Chicago pursuing a major in English and minors in Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies. She leaves her room every now and again to take part in Advocate, Loyola’s LGBTQA organization, where she serves on the advisory board. She is continually attempting to learn what it means to be a good ally to the LGBTQ community. Courtney moonlights as a barista, and has a strong love for musicals, coffee shops, big cities, exploring,Doctor Who, the internet, and most everything else in life. She hates olives though. With a fiery passion.