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Stepwise Success

Noise Can Be Good

Published January 14, 2013 6:14 AM by Scott Warner

Recently, we installed a new analyzer. We shuffled things around, moving a freezer closer to our chemistry workstation. It makes up for its small size by groaning and rattling in a constant racket. According to a sound meter app on my phone, the ambient noise is already high in the laboratory: around 60 decibels.

For comparison I’ve walked around our hospital measuring sound levels using this imprecise method. Patient hallways are around 30 dB and the hallway outside the lab is around 15 dB. Pitch and dissonance aside, in environmental terms these are equivalent to just above breathing (15 dB), a library (30 dB), and normal conversation at 3 feet (60 dB). Walking around the lab, there are common spikes to 70-80 dB (vacuum cleaner), depending on what is happening. Many regulations limit workplace exposure to continuous noise of 85 dB (city traffic from inside a car) for an 8-hour shift, with the allowed exposure halved for every 3 dB increase.

Assume for argument sake that a lab generally has a constant “conversational” level of ambient noise. What does that mean?

First, people in the lab have to speak above this din to hear themselves. Everyone I telephone from home shouts at their end like they’re at a party. My wife can always tell who it is from the next room. We don’t realize this in the lab, of course, but we should all be aware of this self-correction when speaking on the telephone.

A new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research indicates that ambient noise can positively affect creativity, at least where it concerns consumer buying decisions. “Results from five experiments demonstrate that a moderate (70 dB) versus low (50 dB) level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks,” the article states. A lot of research has been done showing how noise can affect cognitive performance, but the noise-creativity relationship has not been well established.

In any case, a 50-70 dB range is well within laboratory experience. This noise might stimulate problem solving abilities, for example. Maybe we can start with making it quieter.

NEXT: Do You Like People?

posted by Scott Warner

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About this Blog


    Scott Warner, MLT(ASCP)
    Occupation: Laboratory Manager
    Setting: Critical Access Hospital
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