How Drinking Can Solve All Your (Word Association) Problems

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Here's a gem for your next round of barstool trivia: a recent study shows that people who have a couple drinks solve brainteasers faster—and get more correct answers—than their sober peers.

Jennifer Wiley, of the University of Illinois in Chicago, asked 40 men to play a few mind games to test creative problem solving skills. Half of the men enjoyed two pints of beer or two glasses of wine, while the other half drank non-alcoholic beverages. Then Wiley presented them with a series of words such as peach, tar, and arm, asking them to find one word common to all of them. (The answer is pit, for our sober readers.) The men with an average blood alcohol level of .075 solved 40 percent more problems than their teetotaler peers, and took about 12 seconds to complete the tasks—3.5 seconds less, on average, than the sober guys.

While the researchers note that being tipsy impairs memory, it also caused people to act creatively to solve problems, suggesting that innovation occurs when people experience distraction.

"We tested what happens when people are slightly merry, not when people drink to extreme," Wiley told the Daily Mail. "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."

July 1, 2012 - 8:30pm
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