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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Alcohol consumption associated with creativity

Photo by Daniel Alfonzo/[email protected]

A few drinks probably won’t help you pass a final, but they could help you be more creative, according to a study published in the March edition of the research journal Consciousness and Cognition.

Jennifer Wiley, lead researcher on the study and professor of psychology at the University of Illinois-Chicago, said in an email that intoxication at a .075 blood alcohol content level reduces performance on tasks that require focus but may help on creative problem-solving tasks that benefits from less focus.

The experiment was designed to test the popular assumption that alcohol benefits the creative process. Wiley said she is interested in the relation between attention control and cognition, especially in understanding which tasks require focus and which tasks too much focus may harm.

The study recruited 40 male social drinkers aged 21-30 through Craigslist and the University of Illinois-Chicago. Participant eligibility was based on a typical consumption of at least four alcoholic beverages one day a week on average over the last three months. Individuals were excluded if they showed signs of problem drinking behaviors during screening.

Screened participants in the alcohol group drank vodka cranberry drinks until their blood alcohol content reached a level of .075. Wiley said vodka cranberry drinks are the standard alcohol experiment procedure established in the field.

The 15 problems participants solved came from the Remote Associates Test, which is similar to the board game Taboo. Participants were given three words such as “falling,” “actor” and “dust” and needed to come up with the solution word, “star.”

The problems were presented on a computer with a one-minute limit per question. After each question, participants were asked to rate the amount of insight they had on a scale of one to seven. A score of one meant that at first they did not know the solution, but after thinking about it strategically, they found the answer. A score of seven meant that the solution came to them suddenly and they immediately knew it was right.

Wiley said intoxicated individuals in the study solved more problems in less time and were more likely to perceive their solutions as the result of a sudden insight. She said those in the alcohol group did worse on the working memory task. In this section participants tried to verify mathematical equations while remembering words.

The data fit in well with previous research regarding mental control, self-regulation and creative problem-solving, which suggests that a deficit in executive functioning can provide benefits in creative tasks. For example, older adults who tend to have attention deficits are more likely than college students to be able to take advantage of hints embedded in the distracting information of a previous, unrelated, reading task.

Mary Kate Daniher, a sophomore in the College of Health Sciences, said she thinks the sober participants did not perform as well because they overthought the problems.

“If you are intoxicated, you probably aren’t thinking very analytically,” Daniher said. “It’s more of a simple realization.”

John Hennessy, a senior in the College of Business Administration, said he thinks the intoxicated students would be more willing to say quick answers.

“It’s in their mouth before it’s in their mind,” Hennessy said.

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