For A Creative Boost, Have A Drink

Ernest Hemingway's most famous advice is "write drunk, edit sober." Although he likely never uttered those words (good rule of thumb: all quotes on the internet are probably wrong!), it's stuck around because it strikes a chord with many. Whether it's hammering out a chapter with a whiskey by their side or painting masterpieces with a side of absinthe, plenty of creatives have been known to enjoy a bit of booze while working on their masterpieces, and a 2017 study backs up their habit: a drink or two can make you more creative.

Cocktails For Creativity

For a study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition in 2017, researchers gave 89 people a pre-test to assess their creativity. Those tests included the Remote Associates Test (RAT), which had them find one word to connect three seemingly unrelated words (for example, the answer for "cottage, blue, cake" would be "cheese" — cottage cheese, blue cheese, cheesecake); the alternate uses tasks, which tested for divergent thinking by having them think of creative uses for common objects like a tire or an umbrella; and a test to see how well they could evaluate what is and isn't creative.

Once they were done, they gave each subject a beer that was either alcoholic or non-alcoholic, without telling them which. They aimed to give the alcohol group enough to raise their blood-alcohol level (BAC) to a modest 0.03. That was roughly a 16-ounce pint of beer for a 5'11", 165-pound man and a 12-ounce can of beer for a 5'5", 145-pound woman. Then, they had the volunteers take the same tests again.

Free Your Mind

Both the buzzed and sober groups improved their performance the second time around, but on the Remote Associates Test, the buzzed participants improved significantly more than their sober counterparts. On divergent thinking and creative assessment, however, it was a wash: there was no difference in performance between the buzzed and sober groups.

While divergent thinking doesn't seem to be affected by booze, the kind of creative problem solving needed for the Remote Associates Test seems to improve when the brain loosens up a little — whether through letting your mind wander or having a drink. The authors say that may be due to the fact that when you're trying to come up with a novel solution to a problem, you can get stuck in a loop. Alcohol may relieve that hyperfocus and help you get more flexible in your thinking. So while some things are best done sober, when you need to think outside the box for a while, a drink or two could do you good. That said, everything in moderation.

The Secret to Creativity

Key Facts In This Video

  1. There's no one hemisphere or area of the brain that accounts for creativity. 01:20

  2. A wandering mind might help your brain to restructure the way you look at a problem, leading to a boost in creativity. 02:15

  3. One study found that families who collectively scored higher on creativity tests were more likely to have an extra copy of the glucose mutarotase gene. 02:43

Written by Ashley Hamer September 11, 2017

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