To get your creative juices flowing, have a beer. Or a glass of wine. Or a vodka and tonic.
That’s science, not a tip from your favorite bartender.
Researchers at the University of Graz, in Austria, found that “mild alcohol intoxication” — as in, buzzed, not bombed — can actually boost cognition and creativity through “loosening” up and refocusing.
Led by Mathias Benedek, a senior scientist in the psychology department, the recent study in “Consciousness and Cognition” journal followed 89 people who either drank beer or a non-alcoholic beer that tasted the same.
Beer drinkers got slightly tipsy — .03% blood alcohol concentration. (U.S. states have set .08% BAC as the legal limit for driving under the influence.)
Participants were asked to do various tasks, such as determining the word that links the words Swiss, blue and cake. Beer drinkers were more likely to guess that the correct answer was “cheese.” Boozy test-takers were also better at coming up with creative uses for common objects — such as umbrellas, shoes and car tires.
Why did boozy subjects do better? “When initial solution attempts get on the wrong track, this can cause blocks to immediate problem solving, which is known as mental fixation,” Benedek notes. “Alcohol may reduce fixation effects by loosening the focus of attention.”
Earlier studies have found that alcohol bumps up creativity. Like those, the Graz research isn’t a call to approach life like an open bar. “The findings,” Benedek writes, “should not be overgeneralized by assuming that creativity is generally supported by alcohol. Beneficial effects are likely restricted to very modest amounts of alcohol, whereas excessive alcohol consumption typically impairs creative productivity.”