In a study published on ScienceDirect, a scientific database with more than 10 million journal articles, the effects of alcohol intoxication on creative problem solving were examined.
On average, not only did those in the intoxicated study group solve more creative problems than the sober control group, they reached solutions at a faster pace. And intoxicated participants were more likely to rate their solutions as insightful.
Andrew Jarosz and his research team explained the assumption by popular culture is that alcohol provides a benefit to creative processes, but to date that conclusion has never been tested.
Jarosz’s experiment tested the effects of moderate alcohol intoxication on a common creative problem solving task, the Remote Associates Test (RAT).
Individuals were brought to a blood alcohol content of approximately .075 by drinking vodka and cranberry juice; after reaching peak intoxication, they completed a battery of RAT items.
Each item in the RAT test consisted of three words, and the task was to find a fourth word that could logically be associated with all three. So for example, one word that has a logical relationship with the words “Peach”, “Arm”, and “Tar” — is “Pit”.
Intoxicated individuals solved more RAT items (they solved 58 per cent of 15 items on average vs. 42 per cent average success achieved by controls) in less time (11.54 seconds per item vs. 15.24 seconds), and were more likely to perceive their solutions as the result of a sudden insight.
Jarosz and his colleagues concluded: “Though only a first step, the current research represents the first empirical demonstration of alcohol’s effects on creative problem solving, while also providing suggestions of the critical underlying mechanisms that allow for this benefit in problem solving performance.”
This study suggests that all the standard features associated with sobriety — acute alertness, enhanced memory retention, and heightened focus of attention — may actually work against “imagination” compared to those in an uninhibited, relaxed state where receptiveness to random associations ignites spontaneous creativity.
One of the study’s co-authors, Jenny Wiley, stressed the research was part of a broader inquiry demonstrating how different mind-sets can affect creative problem solving.
“Other research by her lab and elsewhere has shown that being in a positive mood is also beneficial; as is telling people to go with their gut feelings; so too having early bilingual experience, probably because it allows people to flip between different ways of looking at a problem.”
“So the bottom line,” Wiley said, “is that we think being too focused can blind you to novel possibilities, and a broader, more diffuse or more flexible attentional state may be needed for creative solutions to emerge. Some folks may choose a pint of ale as their muse, others can choose one of these other contexts”.