Ever wondered how Don Draper was able to sip whiskey all day long and still come up with beautiful ads?
Can’t work out why you appear to be a creative genius in front of clients at a boozy lunch?
Ernest Hemmingway once said: “When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day, what else can change your ideas and make them run in a different plane like whisky?”
It’s true – a couple of drinks are good for your creativity. And there is some science behind it.
The University of Illinois were the first to put the theory to the test.
Their study ‘Uncorking the Muse: Alcohol Intoxication Facilitates Creative Problem Solving’ put two groups of blokes to the test. One group was fed enough Vodka and Cranberry to get the their alcohol levels to 0.075 (the drink drive limit is 0.08) and the other plain old tap water.
Both groups were then asked to do the Remote Associates Test – in which they were given three words and had to come up with the best word that connected them all (fans of Daniel Kahneman may recognise this).
The results were clear, if not surprising – the boozed up blokes not only came up with more correct answers but more insightful ones to boot.
Not according to The Drum. They followed up with the ‘Newt/Judge’ experiment, testing creativity under the influence.
The study involved 18 advertising execs who were, again, split into two groups. One of the groups could drink as much as they wanted; the other group were deprived of all but water.
Both groups were given three hours to sit in a room and come up with ideas for an anti-binge drinking campaign. Guess what? The pissed up ad execs not only came up with more ideas, but also dreamt up four out of five of the ‘best’ ideas.
What’s going on?
The brains at Drexel University think they might have the answer. They conducted a study that looked at the source of the ‘Eureka’ moment.
By scanning the brains of people who were set ‘creative’ tasks, they found that those concentrating too hard would actually block the process in their brain needed for problem solving. On the other hand, those who were relaxed had an upsurge of activity in the superior temporal gyrus, leading to that AHA! Moment. (This may explain why going for a brisk walk is good if you are having a spot of writers block).
It seems, therefore, that alcohols tendency to relax the brain leads to a higher chance of those big ideas arriving from what seems like nowhere.
Think of creativity as the ability to think of connections between pre-existing ideas in your brain.
The two hemispheres of your brain are attuned to different types of processing thoughts and information.
The left is linear, specialising in using fine processing and connecting closely related concepts. The right however uses coarse processing to activate and connect broad associations.
So when you have a drink, the relaxing effect of drinking alcohol reduces the ability to keep attention to the linear, thoughts in the left side of the brain and let the right brain make it’s unique, lateral connections i.e ‘highly creative’ thoughts.
In fact, the connection between drinking and creativity is so clear that one agency created ‘the problem solver’ – a beer that gets you to just the right level of intoxication for you to punch out banger after banger. You should give it a go.
So there you have it – creativity doesn’t have to happen in the office. In fact, it’s most likely it wont.
So get down the pub. Now. It is Christmas after all.