You know that friend who thinks they’re smarter when drunk? Well, they may not be entirely wrong.A new study conducted by Professor Andrew Jarosz of Mississippi State University and spotlighted by the prestigious Harvard Business Review offers a bold theory: drunk people are better at creative problem solving.
Jarosz’ theorem is backed up a series of experiments that he conducted with students. The professor fed a group of test subjects enough vodka cranberries to get a buzz on and then performed a series of word associations tests. The tipsy group consistently logged better results than a sober control group.
Specifically, the experiment involved a creative problem-solving assessment called the Remote Associates Test, or RAT. ”For example, ‘What word relates to these three: ‘duck,’ ‘dollar,’ ‘fold’?”; the answer to which is ‘bill,’” explained Jarosz. “We found that the tipsy people solved two to three more problems than folks who stayed sober. They also submitted their answers more quickly within the one-minute-per-question time limit, which is maybe even more surprising.”
The academics believe that loss of focus—normally considered a negative side effect of drinking—is an asset in creative thinking. However, don’t get too drunk; the researchers carefully adjusted the doses of alcohol to bring the subjects up to a 0.75 BAC, just below the common legal limit of 0.8.
“If you need to think outside the box, a few happy-hour drinks or a martini at lunch could be beneficial. But I wouldn’t close the bar out, because if you get your blood alcohol level too much beyond .08, you probably won’t be very useful,” said Jarosz. “And you might have trouble screening out terrible ideas.” He also points out one downside of drinking is diminished memory—so, you might not even be able to remember your brilliant idea the next morning.
Despite the sudden celebrity amongst academics who drink, Jarosz was actually interested in a different topic. “My research focus isn’t alcohol. I was more interested in investigating the potential for improving problem-solving skills. There’s the old tale of Archimedes’ ‘Aha!’ moment in the bath, and I’ve always wondered what causes people to have sudden flashes of insight,” he recalled. “One day I was talking to my coauthors, Gregory Colflesh, who does study alcohol, and Jennifer Wiley, and thought maybe this avenue was one we should explore.”
Illustration by Dr. Bill Copen