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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Uncorking the muse: Alcohol intoxication facilitates creative 04-15

Here’s some good news for those of you looking forward to the weekend: A little wine or beer may make you more creative. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) found that moderate alcohol consumption can reduce people’s ability to pay attention (as anyone who’s ever been drunk can attest), which frees them up for creative problem-solving tasks. In other words, after a few beers you might not be able to solve a math problem, but you may be able to answer a riddle.

Scientists at UIC administered vodka-cranberry cocktails calibrated to each participant’s body weight—which they drank while watching the animated movie Ratatouille, for some reason—until they had a blood-alcohol level of .07. They were then asked to solve math problems while remembering a series of words, which they did moderately well.
The surprise came during the second task, when they were presented with word-association problems that required more creative answers. 

The intoxicated participants correctly answered more problems in less time, and they described their answers as being more intuitive (an “It just came to me!” mindset) than their sober counterparts did. UIC researchers published their findings in the journal Consciousness and Cognition and theorized that alcohol caused them to pay less attention to the “distracting” first task, which gave them better access to “solution cues that would otherwise be ignored.”

So the next time you get drunk, don’t apologize for acting stupid. Just tell everyone you’re being creative.

Suddath is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek.

Short Communication

Uncorking the muse: Alcohol intoxication facilitates creative problem solving

Andrew F. Jarosz , Gregory J.H. Colflesh, Jennifer Wiley
Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Chicago, 1007 W. Harrison St. MC 285, Chicago, IL 60647, United States


That alcohol provides a benefit to creative processes has long been assumed by popular culture,but to date has not been tested. The current experiment tested the effects of moderate alcohol intoxication on a common creative problem solving task, the Remote Associates Test (RAT). Individuals were brought to a blood alcohol content of approximately .075, and, after reaching peak intoxication, completed a battery of RAT items. Intoxicated individuals solved more RAT items, in less time, and were more likely to perceive their solutions as the result of a sudden insight. Results are interpreted from an attentional control perspective.

1. Introduction

The nature of creativity and its causes is a topic that has long been of interest. Creative thought drives both artistic products and scientific innovations, yet the mechanisms underlying great accomplishments have been notoriously difficult to study due to the rarity of these events. A popular belief is that altered cognitive processing, whether due to insanity, sleep state, mood, or substance use, may spark creativity among artists, composers, writers and problem solvers.

The use of alcohol in particular (alone or in combination with other substances) has been linked to the accomplishments of many great individuals including Beethoven, Poe, Hemingway, Coleridge, Pollock, and Socrates.

Despite this, most investigations of alcohol and creativity are case studies or correlational studies, with little work demonstrating the connection empirically

(Norlander, 1999; Plucker, McNeely, & Morgan, 2009).

Why might intoxication lead to improved creative problem solving? One promising mechanism is the effect that alcohol has on executive functioning in combination with previous observations that sometimes a reduced ability to control one’s attention can have positive implications for select cognitive tasks, including creative problem solving tasks
(Kim, Hasher, & Zacks, 2007; Ricks, Turley-Ames, & Wiley, 2007; see Wiley & Jarosz, 2012, for a review).

The role of individual differences in executive function and how they affect problem solving is a topic that has received a considerable amount of attention.

Much of this work has used working memory capacity (WMC) as assessed by complex span tasks as a measure of executive function (see Engle, 2002) and has focused on the relation of WMC to analytical problem solving (see, for example, Kane et al., 2004) and mathematical problem solving (see Ashcraft & Guillaume, 2009, for a review). In these areas working memory capacity is often considered as the ability to control one’s attention (Engle, 2002), and increased working memory capacity generally leads to superior problem solving performance. Recently, however, the role of executive function in creative problem solving has been receiving increasing attention. Creative problem solving, as opposed to analytical problem solving, does not involve computational algorithms or incremental analytic procedures. Instead creative problem solving tends to be characterized by more divergent, associational or discontinuous solution processes.1053-8100/$ - see front matter _ 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Corresponding author. Fax: +1 312 413 4122. E-mail addresses: (A.F. Jarosz), (G.J.H. Colflesh), (J. Wiley).
Consciousness and Cognition xxx (2012) xxx–xxx Contents lists available at SciVerse


Consciousness and Cognition journal homepage:

Please cite this article in press as: Jarosz, A. F., et al. Uncorking the muse: Alcohol intoxication facilitates creative problem solving. Consciousness
and Cognition (2012), doi:10.1016/j.concog.2012.01.002