Saturday, July 29, 2006

Does Cafe Noise Strengthen the Brain?

I wrote about Boing Boing the other day, and they send us another good one today. They report on Bart Kosko's new book, Noise, in which he argues that working against background noise can strengthen your mind by making you concentrate more. I am writing this from a café with classical music in the background, and conversation going on around me.

On the other hand, I heard on NPR the other day that kids who try to do homework with the television on do much worse at remembering what they have read. I listened to the NPR story as background to reading the newspaper and eating breakfast. I remember the NPR story. But I couldn't tell you what I read in the paper.

I find that I like café noise for reading and writing. I do not like television or music with words, though – it is too hard for me not to pay attention to the meaning of the words.

Of course, I am often surprised at how often people tell me about songs they really like, but they can't tell me what the words are. Sometimes they have even memorized the words enough to sing them, but have never really thought about what they mean.

So maybe I am weird. Or maybe this is another knowledge class culture detail. Cafés yes; t.v. no.


Mark Smith said...

I'd rather work with headphones on at work with my favorite music (iPod on random shuffle) rather than hear my co-workers.

My co-workers distract me. The music relaxes me. The music makes me more efficient than silence.

Gruntled said...

How do you concentrate on the words of your work, and not engage with the words of the songs? What part of the music are you listening to? Does it work because your shuffler only contains songs you already know?

Mark Smith said...

Um... I don't know?

Maybe it's because I grew up with lots of distractions - TV, radio on all the time, etc. I used to do homework with the stereo on.

Never had a problem tuning things out. I think it's a matter of background noise. Individual voices talking about subjects that are close to what I'm working on or what's important to me distract me. Music that has nothing to do with it is a pleasant alternative.

Gruntled said...

There may be something deep about how the brain works that I don't get here.

Mark Smith said...

Or my brain doesn't work like everybody else's.

Although most of my under-50 IT colleagues do the same thing.