Goldilocks Soundscape

Why are we so productive at bustling coffee shops?!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Noise can be a distraction. When it’s too loud, it’s hard to work. But too quiet isn’t great either! So what’s the Goldilocks zone?

Enter Karthik Srinivasan from the University of Kansas and team. They wanted to determine the relationship between sound and relaxation. 

They had over two-hundred healthy adults wear sound and heart rate monitors for three days. Scientists measured changes in heart rate to determine stress and relaxation levels.


Using computer modeling, they found that fifty decibels – think moderate rain – is just right. Interestingly, lower noise levels had a worse effect on relaxation than higher noise levels.

The scientists believe that individual sounds become distracting in silence. Low, steady noise dampens these individual sounds into background noise. They hope their findings can help improve future workplace design. 

Okay, back to my coffee shop! It’s not too loud, it’s not too quiet; it’s juuuust right. And I’ll take your muffin.


Srinivasan, K., Currim, F., Lindberg, C. M., Razjouyan, J., Gilligan, B., Lee, H., Canada, K. J., Goebel, N., Mehl, M. R., Lunden, M. M., Heerwagen, J., Najafi, B., Sternberg, E. M., Kampschroer, K., & Ram, S. (2023). Discovery of associative patterns between workplace sound level and physiological wellbeing using wearable devices and empirical Bayes modeling. Npj Digital Medicine, 6(1).