Alcohol May Actually Help Problem Solving Skills

In a recent study, scientists observed that men who ingested two pints of beer or two glasses of wine before tackling brain teasers showed quicker times in providing correct answers. This may lead to a better understanding if alcohol actually is able to enhance an individual’s problem solving skills.

The study found that aside from being quicker in solving brain teasers, they got more questions right compared to others who answered the same test while sober. This goes against the grain of traditional wisdom regarding the effect of alcohol on analytical thinking and rational thought.

The lead author of the study, Professor Jennifer Wiley of the University of Illinois at Chicago, found that alcohol may actually enhance creative problem solving skills through a reduction of the mind’s working memory capacity, allowing for greater concentration on one specific topic at a time.

According to Professor Wiley, “Working memory capacity is considered the ability to control one’s attention. It’s the ability to remember one thing while you’re thinking about something else.”

While this study demonstrating alcohol’s ability to enhance creative problem solving, other research counteracted this as increased working memory capacity leads to better analytic and problem solving abilities. Other research includes a current study recently published at the journal Consciousness and Cognition, where it found individuals drinking alcohol and registering 0.07 blood alcohol level or higher were worse at completing problems requiring attention control, but registered better with creative problem solving tests.

With this discovery, participants registering BAC levels of 0.07 or higher were able to solve 40 percent more problems than their sober counterparts, taking just 12 seconds to complete the tasks compared to 15.5 seconds for teetotalers.

Wiley noted caution on the results as it was too focused and may limit the possibilities to a broader more flexible state of attention that may prove helpful to creative solutions to eventually emerge. She added, “We have this assumption, that being able to focus on one part of  a problem or having lot of expertise is better for problem solving. But that’s not necessarily true. Innovation may happen when people are not so focused. Sometimes it’s good to be distracted.”

Another limitation is the study’s application to individuals having a few drinks and not those that drink to get drunk. She added, “The bottom line is what 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.”

Other experts view that the findings make sense, they also noted that sleep would also be beneficial for creativity enhancement. Past research would show that individuals that were allowed to sleep after being given a problem were more likely to wake up with a creative solution compared to others who kept awake.

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