“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.
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:
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.
[Image: Flickr user El Alvi]