We’ve known it all along, but now it’s almost official: Alcohol makes people think more clearly and increases their ability to solve problems. If you only thought it lowered inhibitions and made members of the opposite sex more attractive, think again. Studies conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago suggest that drinking can loosen the brain enough to increase our reasoning powers.
In the first research project, scientists gave men two pints of beer or two glasses of wine before hitting them with a series of brain teasers. They found that the drinkers answered more questions correctly than those who were sober, and also delivered the correct answers in a shorter period of time.
The results of a parallel study, published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, were just as interesting but a bit looser in methodology. In this sampling, men who identified themselves as social drinkers were allowed to consume vodka and cranberry juice until their blood alcohol level on a breathalyzer was 0.075 (the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle is 0.08). The results were the same.
“There are times where having a bit of alcohol might help you with what you are trying to accomplish,” said Andrew Jarosz, a graduate student at the University. “We found a time when having less focus is helpful.”
“Sometimes it’s good to be distracted,” agreed Dr. Jennifer Wiley. She observed that being too focused might restrict a person’s creativity, and that “a broader, more flexible state of attention is needed for creative solutions to emerge.”
The technical reason may have something to do with the brain’s working memory capacity, which normally gives us the ability to concentrate on a specific problem. While the conventional understanding has always been that increasing that capacity led to a greater ability to solve analytic puzzles, it now appears that alcohol might actually enhance creative thought by decreasing it.
Does this mean you should knock back a few vodka and cranberries before an exam or job interview? Probably not, but a more relaxed state of mind might enhance your performance.