Maybe those Mad Men with their office decanters and alcohol-fuelled brainstorming sessions were on to something: A new study has found that a tipsy male brain may also be a wittier one.
Researchers at the University of Illinois gave a word association test to 20 sober men and a second group of 20 participants who had consumed enough vodka-based drinks to get them to just below the legal limit for intoxication. The study, called Uncorking the Muse, was published online in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.
Researchers suggest that the moderate levels of alcohol “loosened up” a person’s focus, allowing them to solve intuitive and creative word association problems, while the sober participants were more rigid in their problem-solving. In the study, both groups watched an animated movie. Afterward, they were given this test: They saw three words on a screen and then had to come up with a fourth that could form a phase with each of them. (Example: For peach, arm and tar, the response would be pit.)
As Science News reports, participants at “peak intoxication” solved nine problems, compared with six correct answers for the sober groups – and they also did so more quickly, on average.
The researchers suggested their study demonstrated how alcohol may foster artistic and musical ability. Of course, there’s a storied history of writers and artists and their relationships with alcohol from Beethoven to Ernest Hemingway, though often not with the moderation described in the aforementioned research study. Christopher Hitchens was also a proponent of alcohol to enhance and deepen conversation.
But before you set up the martini bar by the water cooler at work, keep in mind that the sample size was small and a 2002 study testing word association on drunk and sober people reached the opposite conclusion. On the other hand, some researchers suggest that simply believing you are drunk is enough to spark the same upswing in creativity.
To say nothing of helping you survive those interminable work meetings.
Do you think there’s a link between alcohol and creativity?