Did someone just send me an Email????
However, behind the advanced parts of the human brain (the neocortex) which control our conscious thought, are the more ancient part of the brain which control basic functions, such as the limbic system (memory, learning, emotions) and the oldest part like the “reptilian brain”, the basal ganglia (motivation, eye movement).
What is important to remember here is that the most ancient parts of the brain evolved to keep us alive and safe, and therefore can override the more advanced areas, such as when you are concentrating on something. Problematically, this part of the brain is very easily distracted when it notices something change, especially visually or a noise, as the brain needs to quickly assess whether it could be a threat.
This is why it is so easy to become distracted while working on a creative project.
Every new alert you get, whether it is an email notification, facebook update or SMS message buzz in your pocket tells the brain:
This is a change in the surroundings and needs my attention NOW!
In fact, a lot has been written in recent years about how open plan offices are showing to be bad for productivity because people simply can’t prevent distractions and focus on their work.
This is where background noise like white noise can come in.
Your brain is fortunately so advanced that it can recognise patterns to see if it is worth its effort processing this new information. In fact, if it recognises a pattern or notices that its sensory input isn’t changing, it will actually stop processing the information it is receiving and start working off memories.
A white noise the background will quickly become filtered out by the brain (as long as it is not painful), like you quickly forget that an air conditioner is making noise until someone mentions it. This is turn will help mask out other sounds in the background, which otherwise would be instantly heard if there was silence and alert and distract your brain.
Thereby, steady background noises like this can help prevent you getting distracted by making all the other noises less noticeable.
Why white noise isn’t the best solution
In fact, the word noise is a derivative of the latin word for nausea, so it makes sense that noise is described as unpleasant.
The reason for this pain is that white noise takes a random combination of sound frequencies. However, sound frequencies don’t increase incrementally, but rather they double for every octave a pitch increases. This results in twice as many new higher frequency (higher pitched) sounds available for the random list every time you increase by an octave. This results in a much higher likelihood of more high pitched frequency sounds in the random white noise, making the overall pitch seem higher. The video at the top of this page explains it well.
Additionally, human hearing is more sensitive to higher pitched sounds as they are more related to human speech and actually amplifies them. means that this white noise can feel rather uncomfortable.
Combine these two facts together and white noise can feel rather uncomfortable.
If you want something more pleasant to listen to, you could try pink noise, which you can listen to here: