Living cells exist in an electrically noisy environment. This has led to the so-called "signal-to-noise" problem whereby cells are observed to respond to extremely-low-frequency (ELF) exogenous fields that are several orders of magnitude weaker than local endogenous fields associated with thermal fluctuations. To resolve this dilemma, we propose that living cells are affected only by electromagnetic fields that are spatially coherent over their surface. The basic idea is that a significant number of receptors must be simultaneously and coherently activated (biological cooperativity) to produce effects on the biochemical functioning of the cell. However, like all physical detection systems, cells are subject to the laws of conventional physics and can be confused by noise. This suggests that a spatially coherent but temporally random noise field superimposed on a coherent ELF signal will defeat the mechanism of discrimination against noise, and any observed field-induced bioeffects would be suppressed. An experimental test of this idea was conducted using morphological abnormalities in developing chick embryos caused by electromagnetic field exposure as the endpoint. At an impressed noise amplitude comparable to the ELF field strength (but roughly one-thousandth of the thermal noise field), the increased abnormality rate observed with only the ELF field present was reduced to a level essentially the same as for the control embryos.