From the New York Times:

In a series of experiments that looked at the effects of noise on creative thinking, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had participants brainstorm ideas for new products while they were exposed to varying levels of background noise. Their results, published in The Journal of Consumer Research, found that a level of ambient noise typical of a bustling coffee shop or a television playing in a living room, about 70 decibels, enhanced performance compared with the relative quiet of 50 decibels.

That would have been no surprise to coffee-shop habitués c. 1650 in Oxford – the first espresso-bar equivalent in England, according to Steven Johnson (author of Where Good Ideas Come From – referenced here in a previous post.)  In this TED talk, he builds on the idea of ‘liquid networks’ that were crucial to the Enlightenment :