Maybe that background music in the grocery store isn't such a bad idea, after all. If you want to encourage shoppers to spend, background music is a good idea. The trick, according to new research, is finding the right volume. Music that is too loud, or no music at all, can have a negative impact on consumer behavior and on creativity, in general.
The research, conducted by Ravi Mehta, a professor of business administration at the University of Illinois, found that ambient background noise is an important factor in affecting creative cognition among consumers. In other words, if you want customers to think creatively about how they can use your product, you'll want to have some music playing.
"We found that ambient noise is an important antecedent for creative cognition," Mehta said. "A moderate level of noise not only enhances creative problem-solving but also leads to a greater adoption of innovative products in certain settings."
In the article, Methta and co-authors Rui (Juliet) Zhu, of the University of British Columbia, and Amar Cheema, of the University of Virginia, explore how a moderate-level of ambient noise (about 70 decibels, equivalent to a passenger car traveling on a highway) enhances performance on creative tasks and increases the likelihood of consumers purchasing innovative products. Similarly, the researchers also studied how a high level of noise (85 decibels, equivalent to traffic noise on a major road) hurts creativity by reducing information processing.
“It turns out that around 70 decibels is the sweet spot," Mehta said. "If you go beyond that, it's too loud, and the noise starts to negatively affect creativity. It's the Goldilocks principle — the middle is just right.”
Using background noise commonly found in consumers' lives, the researchers show that, as noise increases, so does one's level of distraction.
“An increased level of distraction makes you think 'out-of-the-box' – what we call abstract thinking or abstract processing, which is a hallmark of increased creativity," Mehta said. "But when you start to go beyond that moderate level of noise, what happens is that distraction becomes so huge that it really starts affecting the thought process. You really can’t process information because the distraction is so pronounced. And that is what inhibits creativity."
The research, which has important practical implications for inducing consumer behavior, should be useful for both advertisers and marketers, who strive to increase adoption rates of new and innovative products.
Mehta says the study is not only applicable to consumer research, but also to problem-solving in general.
"This is research that people can relate to almost immediately," he said, adding that employers should also consider how background noise is affecting their employees' performance.