Traffic noise ups heart attack risk, but coffee shop noise makes you more creative

Nadine Bells
Shine OnJune 25, 2012

Two recent studies have examined the connection between noise and your health. While one study found noise can boost creativity, another found that noise can up heart attack risk.

One study, lead by researcher and PhD candidate Ravi Mehta and published in the Journal of Consumer Research, suggests that ambient coffee-shop noise boosts imagination and creative thought.

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The researchers compared three work environments subject to noise: a quiet environment with 50 decibels of noise, a moderate level of ambient noise (70 dB) and one with high-level noise (85 dB). They found that a moderate level of background noise created enough distraction to encourage more imaginative thought without hurting creative performance as too-loud environments did.

Here's a chart on typical noise levels.

"[I]nstead of burying oneself in a quiet room trying to figure out a solution, walking out of one's comfort zone and getting into a relatively noisy environment may trigger the brain to think abstractly, and thus generate creative ideas," the researchers conclude in their paper.

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While sitting in a coffee shop might help you finish that novel, living near a freeway can pose a serious health risk. Ambient coffee-shop noise and roadway-traffic noise are not created equal.

A study by researchers at the Danish Cancer Society, published in the journal PLoS One, found that individuals who lived with higher levels of traffic noise around their homes were at greater risk for heart attacks. For every 10-decibel increase of noise, heart-attack risk increased by 12 per cent.

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Cardiologists and researchers have yet to pinpoint the exact reason for the link, but speculate that stress is an element.

"The noise itself probably does increase stress and the levels of stress hormones like adrenaline. Your blood pressure is probably going up as well," Dr. Robert Bonow, a professor of medicine at the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, tells ABC News.

Air pollution is often present where noise pollution is, so the polluted air damaging the heart and blood vessels is likely another factor increasing cardiac-arrest risk.

Traffic noise can also interfere with sleep. Lead author Mette Sorensen recommends that people who live in noisy areas sleep in quiet, interior rooms for the fewest possible sleep interruptions.

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