By Linda Carroll , msnbc.com contributor
Forget about Muzak. If you want put customers in the mood to purchase your innovative new product, a new study suggest you try pumping some road noise or the sounds from a busy mall into your store or showroom.
Noise, if its not too loud, can spark creative thinking ? and that can lead to sales of inventive products, researchers reported in the study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
Moderate noise?? around 70 decibels ? is enough to distract us from our normal thought patterns, said the study?s lead author Ravi Mehta, an associate professor in the Department of Business Administration at the University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign.
And once we?re distracted, we tend to think in broader and more creative ways, which apparently allows us to better appreciate the value of innovative products.
Mehta and his colleagues conducted a series of experiments to investigate how various levels of noise impacted thinking and consumer behavior.
In one experiment, the researchers asked 65 college students to take a creativity test while seated in front of a set of speakers playing a mix of sounds that had been recorded in a busy restaurant and near a highway. The sound the volunteers heard was very much like what you would experience if you were seated near the street at an outdoor restaurant, Mehta said.
The study volunteers were divided into four groups. One heard the noise recordings turned up high, another heard the recordings at medium volume, another heard low volume and the fourth got silence.
The researchers found that the volunteers who heard a moderate level of noise did best on the test. Low noise and silence produced results that were similar to each other. Loud noise produced the poorest performance. That?s because it?s too distracting, Mehta said.
In another experiment, the researchers had 68 college students fill out a survey to determine their likelihood of buying one item out of each of eight pairs of products. In each pairing, one traditional product was matched with an innovative one. One pairing, for example, included a traditional mountain bike and a mountain bike that could be folded up so the rider could hike with it for a while and then ride it when he or she chose, Mehta said.
Once again, volunteers were exposed to different levels of noise as they filled out the surveys. Sure enough, people from the group who heard moderate noise in the background while they were filling out the surveys were more likely than those in the other groups to choose innovative products.
So, is the noise effect limited to innovative items?
?Maybe not, Mehta said.
In another experiment, the researchers asked 95 college students to come up with creative uses for a brick. Again, the students were divided into groups, some exposed to moderate noise and others exposed to low noise in the background as they wrote down their ideas.
When the researchers looked at the lists of ideas, they found no difference between the two groups when it came to the number of ideas originated by each group. But the group that heard moderate noise came up with much more creative ideas, Mehta said.
?Perhaps if you have a convertible in an auto showroom, potential customers will be able to think of more ways they might enjoy the car if they?ve got a moderate level of noise in the background ? as compared to the pin-drop silence usually heard in such establishments, Mehta said.?