You may find you work better in a coffee shop than in your bedroom, but perhaps not for the reasons you’ve been led to believe. Instead of the noise and bustle stimulating your imagination, your productivity could be because concentration is contagious.
It might be that it’s the other people working hard at their laptops in a coffee shop that are responsible for your improved performance. A recent study suggests that mental effort is contagious – simply being around people who are working hard is enough to make us work harder ourselves.
This discovery was made by sitting people who were doing different tasks next to each other. When one person’s task was more difficult, the person next to them worked harder too, even though they couldn’t see what was on their neighbour’s computer screen.
How this effect occurs isn’t clear, but it might be that we are influenced by subtle, unconscious cues such as a person’s body posture or breathing.