Does Drinking Beer Make You More Creative?

It worked for countless writers and artists, of course, but in business? Making a case that before "eureka," comes "cheers." (You're welcome.)

"There are lots of famous drunk artists," observes Chicago Magazine writer Whet Moser, "but no famous drunk accountants."

Why is that? Because, as Mikael Cho argues at Medium, creative insights arrive in your brain in nonlinear ways--which may be accelerated by a few well-quaffed beers.

As we learned in our discussion of humor, the most creative people have a way of relaxing the inhibiting, self-critical parts of the brain when they're in the flow of performance.

Research shows that a moderate amount of alcohol can do much the same. Drinking, Cho writes, decreases your working memory--impairing your ability to focus and hemming in your interest in the things happening around you--and increases your creativity.

Beery associations

One of the keys to innovative, combinatorial creativity is the ability to make associations between disparate things. Research from the University of Illinois-Chicago shows that a bit of tippling can do just that.

Here's what happened: The subjects got a little tipsy (.07 BAC, just below the legal driving limit). Then they received a remote association test, in which you are presented with three seemingly disconnected words and asked to find a single word that fits with all three. Fans of Thinking, Fast and Slow will recognize the test--the immediate potential reponses are usually incorrect, demanding the subject to make more unobvious solutions.

For the boozy test, subjects received three target words, like:

  • Peach
  • Arm
  • Tar

If you're playing along at home, you can try to find the connecting word yourself or, better yet, you could have an IPA and then try. Spoiler alert: The answer is pit.

What happened in the study? Half of the subjects drank nothing while the others drank two pints of beer--and the drinkers solved 40% more of the problems.

But why? The remote association test (and other creative problem-solving) isn't solved with rigorous, step-by-step investigation. Instead, it rewards intuition and association--processes that fire most frequently when you're relaxed.

Or, in brainy academic language:

"As attentional control decreases with intoxication, the ability to maintain attention on the closely-related associates activated by the left hemisphere may be reduced, while remote associates activated by the right hemisphere may then gain easier access to the focus of attention."

That link between relaxation and creativity has been made before: It's one reason why night owls can be so late-night productive.

The Bottom Line: Just like you always thought, beers make you clever.

Coffee vs. beer: which drink makes you more creative?

[Image: Flickr user El Alvi]

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10 Comments

  • Salviati_Returms

    As a person who spent an ungodly amount of time in my 20's in bars sober with my drunk friends, the answer is an unequivocal NO! Alcohol is the medium that takes perfectly mediocre people and transforms them into slurring idiots.

    Additionally this article contains the tired trope of artists being creative while accountants epitomize the lack of creativity. Its worth bearing in mind that the accountants were among those responsible for devising schemes to hide the losses that would later plunge the global economy into the abyss, all the while enriching themselves and their clients. This type of criminal behavior requires creative thought and believing otherwise does the public serious harm because we underestimate what type of damage these "boring" types are capable of inflicting on us. It all brings to mind Banksy's quote about advertising, which could equally well be about accountants or banksters more generally:

    “The thing I hate the most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative and ambitious young people, leaving us mainly with the slow and self-obsessed to become our artists.. Modern art is a disaster area. Never in the field of human history has so much been used by so many to say so little.”

  • Salviati_Returms

    Oh its so much more clear now. If this notion of combinatorial creativity had any basis outside the minds of people looking to make a name for themselves then we should be able to make a clear distinction between combinatorial creativity and other forms of creativity. For instance, the first time I was able to prove: a*0 = 0, you should be able to tell me if that proof originated from combinatorial creativity or some other creativity and precisely why. Furthermore, it has to be consistent, in other words if an accountant used a similar logical process to construct a model to hide losses then it too would have the same creative classification. But this is a useless exercise because this notion of combinatorial creativity has no basis.

  • David

    I'd like to know the correlation between national beer consumption and national rate of increase of small microbreweries.