Drinking Alcohol Increases Problem Solving Ability
April 13, 2012

Drinking Alcohol Increases Problem Solving Ability

According to a new study, drinking alcohol may significantly increase someone's chances at winning a game of trivia, according to a Medical Daily report.

Professor Jennifer Wiley of the University of Illinois at Chicago and colleagues found that men who drank two pints of beer or two glasses of wine before solving brain teasers not only got more questions right, but also were quicker in delivering correct answers.

The team discovered that alcohol may enhance creativity problem solving by reducing the mind's working memory capacity, which is the ability to concentrate on something in particular.

“Working memory capacity is considered the ability to control one´s attention,” Wiley told the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (FABBS). “It´s the ability to remember one thing while you´re thinking about something else.”

The study, which was published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, found that at a blood alcohol level of 0.07 or higher, participants were better at creative problem solving tests, but worse at completing problems that required attentional control.

In that study, participants that had been drinking solved 40 percent more problems than their sober counterparts and took 12 seconds to complete the tasks compared to 15.5 seconds by teetotal participants.

Wiley said the key finding in her study was that being too focused can blind a person to novel possibilities and a broader state of attention could be helpful for creative solutions.

“We have this assumption, that being able to focus on one part of a problem or having a lot of expertise is better for problem solving,” Wiley told FABBS. “But that´s not necessarily true. Innovation may happen when people are not so focused. Sometimes it´s good to be distracted.”

As an example, Wiley said if she asked a participant what words go with blue, cottage, and Swiss, and their answer was "cheese", then they would be accessing their remote ideas, not linear ones.  It is this way of thinking that her team found to be exploited by alcohol.

"The bottom line is that we think being too focused can blind you to novel possibilities, and a broader, more flexible state of attention is needed for creative solutions to emerge," Wiley wrote in the journal.

Wiley did point out that the findings only apply to people who had just a few drinks, not those who over indulged in alcohol.

University of Hertfordshire psychologist  Professor Richard Wiseman, told the Daily Mail that he agreed with the finding, but a good night's sleep is likely to be just as beneficial.

Past research showed that people who were allowed to sleep after being given a problem were more likely to come up with a creative solution compared to those who stayed awake.