I’m fortunate in that I have my own office.  If things get noisy, in the lab, I can shut my door.  In fact, to avoid the social awkwardness of shutting my door on lab-mates mid conversation (when they’re talking with each other, not to me, that would be plain rude!) I tend to keep the door to my office closed, or only slightly ajar, at all times.

I’m also fortunate in that I am able to listen to music I know without being distracted.  If the door isn’t holding back the tide of free-flowing conversation, I can usually put on an album I like, turn up the music and just get on with it.

But there’s a problem – my office neighbours the experiment testing room.

If there are participants in there making responses ‘as quickly and as accurately as possible’, they won’t appreciate Tom McRae’s latest album leaking into their consciousness (probably just as much as they don’t appreciate folks talking outside the testing room).  In that special case, I’ve found that non-musical white noise (and its variations) works best.  It’s perfect at masking out distracting conversation and it doesn’t carry.  I’ve had it up at deafening levels when I’m sat in front of my computer, but as soon as I head out into the communal area of the lab, it registers barely a whisper.

“Noise, that sounds amazing.  From where can I purchase such a technology?” I hear you gasping.  Well, rather predictably if you consider the bits and pieces I tend to write about on this blog, it’s free and available online (no download required) at:


One of the nice features of the newly re-designed simply noise website is that you can choose your poison: white noise, brown noise, pink noise.  These different varieties of noise have different frequency spectra that impart a slightly different feel to each: white noise sounding tinnier than the other two, with pink noise sounding quite like steady monsoon rain and brown noise like the rumble of distant ocean.  You can also set the volume to rise and fall (though that does leave open the tendency for chitter-chatter from outside to creep in at the low volume points) if you fancy a little more variation in the sound.

If course, if you’re into a more naturalistic noise, you can try:


It sounds just like a rainstorm because that’s exactly what it is – a high quality loop of a storm complete with rolling thunder.  (On the occasions that I’ve turned the volume right up,  I have noticed that you can make out something that sounds a little like distant music – maybe it’s just distortion but I imagine it could be touch distracting if you were bothered by that sort of thing, in which case you’re probably best off sticking to the uniformity of simplynoise.com.)

It goes without saying that this sort of noise can be useful in a number of different ways.  I was initially turned onto it by a friend who does research into auditory perception and since using it myself, I’ve found out about new parents who swear by it for getting their babies (and themselves) to sleep (simplynoise.com even comes with a sleep timer for this very purpose).

Give it a go if you can’t work and listen to music, or if you find yourself in a situation where music just won’t do.

One thought on “Noise-masking with noise

  1. Pingback: music to think, read and code to « O'Connor Memory Judgements Lab

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