Intoxicated Creativity

Does alcohol provide the spark of creative genius as some chronicles of popular culture maintain?

It’s generally a bad idea to drive a car, operate heavy machinery, or sharpen knives after having a few drinks. Besides being against the law to operate a motor vehicle while inebriated, in both driving and the other examples lack of sobriety clearly poses a risk to life and limb.

Ethyl alcohol also limits high cognitive function, as anyone who’s tried to complete a challenging mental task under the influence will attest. But what about creativity? Does alcohol provide the spark of creative genius as some chronicles of popular culture maintain? Look at the productive genius of Hemingway, Faulkner, Beethoven, and other tipplers whose imaginative powers were clearly superior.

A new publication from the University of Illinois at Chicago lends credibility to those who would try to boost their creative juices with booze. The authors posed difficult word association tests to groups of volunteers who were either stone cold sober or intoxicated just below the legal limit in the US (0.08 percent). Surprisingly (or distressingly, depending on your point of view) the buzzed group was significantly faster and reached a higher score than the abstinence group. A nice control was that both groups performed equally when all were sober.

The authors also point out that sleep has the same salutary effect on creativity as alcohol. In both cases, the participants believe their enhanced performance is related to the ability to have a sudden, unexpected insight, which of course is the very essence of creativity.

Although it may be tempting to use these results to justify flamboyant drinking habits, it would be wise to recall that excessive alcohol use also can do great damage to personal relationships, lead to poor job performance and dismissal, and all the other untoward effects associated with drink. Sleep would seem the better igniter of creativity than booze.

Tom Tritton is President and CEO of CHF.

Episode 44: Sweet Dreams [Distillations]
Episode 137: Cocktails [Distillations]
Why Being Sleepy and Drunk Are Great for Creativity [Frontal Cortex]

(Photo via flickr/ MarcelGermain)

Posted In: Technology

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