Saturday, 10 May 2014
Creativity in a bottle?
Ernest Hemmingway is reported to have said “When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day, what else can change your ideas and make them run in a different plane like whisky?” Famed authors David Foster Wallace, Edgar Allan Poe, and Truman Capote were also heavy drinkers, along with several musicians including Beethoven. So the question is, does a few drinks help creativity?
Andrew Jarosz set about researching this. He got 40 male social drinkers aged 21 to 30. All were required to avoid alcohol and drugs for 24 hours prior to the experiment and to avoid food and caffeine for 4 hours prior. Half the participants were allocated to the alcohol group and were given enough vodka to achieve a blood alcohol concentration of .07 (approximately two pints of beer for the average man). The other participants acted as controls and consumed no alcohol.
Both groups then did a Remote Associates Test (RAT) . This type of test is frequently used by psychologists to measure creativity. The test is called a Remote Associates Test because it measures the ability to see relationships between things that are only remotely associated e.g. what word is associated with the words 'pay’, ‘call’ and ‘line’? the answer is ‘phone’.
The research found that the drinking participants solved more items on the Remote Associates Test compared with the non drinkers participants (58 per cent vs. 42 per). It got better, they also solved items quicker (11.54 seconds per item vs. 15.24 seconds). The people with a few drinks also seemed to have a more intuitive experience and reported solving more items through ‘Eureka’ moments rather than analytical analysis of the words.
It is worth noting that people with a few drinks on board performed worse on working memory tasks, though this would be expected. The point to consider here is that a few drinks or mild intoxication may help relax our thoughts and stimulate creativity. Clearly drinking to excess would undo this so moderation is key.
If you are trying to tease out a situation that requires some out of the box thinking or need to come up with a creative approach, treat yourself to a glass of wine or a beer and see if creativity kicks in. If you are having a working lunch then maybe have a little more than coffee tea and water on the menu.