Alcohol as Muse

New research indicates that alcohol, which many a moody poet has indulged in, may actually increase creativity. Psychologists Andrew F. Jarosz, Gregory J.H. Colflesh, and Jennifer Wiley recruited 40 males, got half of them a little tipsy on vodka, and then subjected them to the “Remote Associates Test,” which tests insightful thinking.  Their results, as summarized by the BPS Research Digest, were surprisingly good:

The key finding of the new research is that the intoxicated participants solved more items on the Remote Associates Test compared with the control participants (they solved 58 per cent of 15 items on average vs. 42 per cent average success achieved by controls), and they tended to solve the items more quickly (11.54 seconds per item vs. 15.24 seconds). Moreover, the intoxicated participants tended to rate their experience of problem solving as more insightful, like an Aha! moment, and less analytic. They also performed worse on a working memory test, as you might expect. 

The authors believe alcohol consumption may encourage the kind of “divergent, diffuse mode of thought” that inspires creativity. “So the bottom line is that we think being too focused can blind you to novel possibilities, and a broader, more diffuse or more flexible attentional state may be needed for creative solutions to emerge,” says Wiley. “Some folks may choose a pint of ale as their muse, others can choose one of these other contexts …”

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  1. Chris says:

    Doesn’t this research correlate to the idea that alcohol shuts down our inner bias or general programmed social norm? When you have three pints before going to talk to the attractive co-ed across the bar, the voice inside your head isn’t telling you the most creative joke in the world as your ice breaker, it’s just allowing you to get out from your own bias or general sober social norms.

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  2. James says:

    It would seem to parallel my own observations, which is that you can come up with a lot of brilliant (or at least brilliant seeming) ideas at happy hour, but each of those ideas then takes weeks or months of sober lab work to make them work.

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  3. 34.7 year friend of Bill W. says:

    Yeh…. Well count me as a f*king EXPERT in these matters.

    When first contemplating a career in writing I was told that the great American Novel was a product of hard liquor lubricating a typewriter.

    This worked for a while. When first getting sober, my creative brain was dead for a year or two. I struggled through it.

    And it’s unlikely that my brains will splatter the ceiling.

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  4. Robert Stark says:

    A friend who was a major fencer told me that fencers are often slightly drunk when they compete, helps to keep them from thinking about what they’re doing, let’s the instincts rule.

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  5. Shane L says:

    I do something similar with tiredness. Late at night, when very tired, I find my mind stops getting the the way and I can write fluid and creative prose.

    Of course history is full of rock stars as well as poets who found inspiration in alcohol and other drugs, so I’m not at all surprised by this finding.

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  6. Marci Kiser says:

    Or we could look at the real-life research conducted by men like Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway, and realize that liquor is a sodding terrible way to be a writer.

    I know, I know… I’m buying into the post’s unspoken conflation of ‘creativity’ with ‘creative output’. But the fact is that men like Tolstoy are Arthur Miller were writing well into their 80s, while the above all died ignobly after years of alcohol-related decline in both their writing and health.

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    • Evan says:

      It is true that alcoholism can destroy lives and careers. However, I believe alcoholism is a far cry from having a few beers before having an idea generating session.

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  7. Cody says:

    as a poet and songwriter, I definitely agree that it increases my creativity. Lots of times finding the write chord is virtually impossible for me until I sit down with 2-3 beers and a good cigar at night. I’ve written alot for my lady and for myself even just through that. I’m not particularly interested in using any controlled substances as a muse at this point in my life, so I find beer is a great way to free my mind quite often.

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    • Eric M. Jones says:

      A terribly incomplete record of alcohol’s carnage. Hell, Jimmy Hendrix, who choked on his own vomit, isn’t even on it!

      Alan Watts Alcoholism 58 Philosopher, theologian, writer
      Brendan Behan Alcoholism 41 Writer
      George Best Alcoholism 59 Football player
      John Bonham Asphyxiation 32 Drummer for Led Zeppelin, Musician
      Julia Bruns Alcohol poisoning 32 Actress, model
      Rob Buck Liver failure 42 Musician
      Richard Burton Cerebral haemorrhage 58 Actor
      David Byron Alcoholism 38 Musician
      Truman Capote Liver disease 59 Writer
      Torsten Carleman Alcoholism 57 Mathematician
      Raymond Chandler Pneumonia 70 Writer
      Michael Clarke Alcoholism 47 Musician
      Miika Tenkula Alcoholism 34 guitarist
      Brian Connolly Renal failure 52 Singer
      Peter Cook GI haemorrhage 57 Comedian
      Michael Elphick Alcoholism 55 Actor[20]
      W. C. Fields Alcoholism 66 Actor
      F. Scott Fitzgerald Heart attack 44 Writer
      Alexander Godunov Alcoholism 45 Dancer/actor
      Patrick Hamilton Cirrhosis 58 Writer
      William R. Hamilton Gout 60 Mathematician
      Lorenz Hart Alcoholism 48 Lyricist
      Ian Hendry Stomach haemorrhage 53 Actor
      O. Henry Cirrhosis 47 Writer
      William Holden Alcoholism 63 Actor
      Billie Holiday Alcoholism 44 Singer
      Naftali Herz Imber Alcoholism 53 Poet
      Yootha Joyce Alcoholism 53 Actress
      Phil Katz Alcoholism 37 Computer programmer
      Jack Kerouac Alcoholism 47 Writer
      Veronica Lake Acute hep. 50 Actress
      Kevin Lloyd Alcoholism 49 Actor
      Ron McKernan Gastrointestinal haemorrhage 27 Musician
      Grace Metalious Cirrhosis 39 Writer
      Jim Morrison Alcoholism 27 Musician, Poet
      Modest Mussorgsky Alcoholism 42 Composer
      Barbara Payton Liver failure 39 Actress
      Oliver Reed Alcoholism 61 Actor
      Bon Scott Alcoholism 33 AC/DC singer/songwriter
      Ramses Shaffy Esophageal Cancer 76 Singer, Actor
      Jean Stafford Cardiac arrest 63 Writer
      Dylan Thomas Alcoholism 39 Writer
      James Thurber 2 Stroke 66 Cartoonist and writer
      Amy Winehouse Alcohol poisoning 27 singer/songwriter
      Keith Whitley Alcohol poisoning 33 Country music singer
      Hank Williams Acute ventricular dilation 29 Musician
      Lester Young Heart failure 49 Musician
      Townes Van Zandt Heart attack 52 Musician
      Jani Lane Alcohol poisoning 47 Musician

      And on and on. Let’s be careful out there.

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