A Couple Beers May Help Your Sudoku

Alcohol intoxication may enhance creativity and improve problem solving ability

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) It's no secret that alcohol can impair a person's judgment. But could it simultaneously enhance creativity enough to solve problems? Perhaps Ernest Hemingway was on to something.

A new study has found that a little bit of drink may help spark that "Eureka!" moment when a person's creativity takes off.

Or, at least a couple vodka cranberry cocktails helped a group of men solve creative problems faster.

"Enjoy drink in moderation, but one beer while writing may be helpful."

Lead author Andrew Jarosz, of the University of Chicago at Illinois, and two colleagues conducted a study to find out how well a group of individuals could solve puzzles requiring a bit of creativity after they had thrown back a few.

The researchers recruited 40 men between the ages of 21 and 30 from Craigslist and the university community. All the men identified themselves as social drinkers, defined as drinking at least four drinks a week on average over the previous three months.

Those with any signs of possible alcoholism or problem drinking were excluded from the study, as well as those with certain medical conditions, such as heart or liver disease or a psychiatric disorder.

All the men were tested while sober to determine their working memory capacity so that participants with similar scores could be matched up when they were split into two groups later: a sober group and a group that would become intoxicated.

Then, after 24 hours without alcohol and 4 hours without food or drink, the participants included in the intoxicated group were given some bagels as a snack and then three vodka cranberry drinks (1:3 ratio) over thirty minutes. The other group received nothing.

The men in the intoxicated group had blood alcohol levels ranging from 0.44 to 0.94. When they were at their peak level of drunkenness, about an hour into the study, the intoxicated group and the sober group took a test that included 15 easy, medium and difficult questions to test their problem-solving ability and creativity.

They also rated how they figured out each question on a scale of 1 to 7 where 1 involved more strategic thinking and working out, and 7 was more of a sudden inspiration out of nowhere.

The men who were drunk correctly solved about 38 percent more of the problems - and they did so about 3.7 seconds faster on average per problem.

The drunk problem-solvers attributed their ability to answer the questions much more often (about 40 percent more) to a sudden insight or intuition than just working analytically through the problem.

The researchers concluded that a moderate level of alcohol intoxication could improve creative problem-solving.

They hypothesized that the greater ability to think creatively may be because the mind was more relaxed, much the same way sleep can help facilitate problem-solving and creativity.

Of course, this doesn't mean alcoholics are more creative than non-alcoholics or that a person should plan to become highly intoxicated before a task or event that requires creativity or problem-solving - especially if the problem-solving requires good judgment since alcohol impairs judgment.

While artists like Jackson Pollack, Ludwig Beethoven, Ernest Hemingway and Edgar Allan Poe were famous for mixing their work and their drink, each also experienced the destructive powers of alcohol addiction.

So if you're picking up some paints or planning to write some fiction, a couple beers may help the process - but plan your work experience safely.

The study was published in the March issue of Consciousness and Cognition. The research was funded by a Psi Chi Graduate Research Grant. The authors did not note any conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 14, 2012
Last Updated:
April 17, 2012