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Uncork the Muse! Is creativity sparked by altered cognitive states brought on by insanity, sleep state, mood, or substance use? Alcohol, in particular, has been credited with inspiring creative geniuses from Socrates to Beethoven, Poe, Hemingway, Coleridge, and Pollock. In contrast to analytical problem solving, which requires high attention span and working memory capacity, creative problem solving involves flashes of intuition. A recent study tested the effect of moderate alcohol consumption on creative thinking.

The Experiment: Male social drinkers were administered alcohol to a blood alcohol level of 0.07 (just below the drinking limit for driving) then given the RAT (Remote Associates Test). For example, participants were given three target words such as PEACH, ARM, and TAR, and were tasked with finding a fourth word, such as PIT, that forms a good two-word phrase with each of the target words. This type of word association involves out of the box, creative thinking. They were also asked if they came by the association intuitively (as in an Aha! moment).

The Results: As seen in the figure, intoxicated participants reported significantly more insightful solutions than sober participants. Even better, they solved significantly more RAT problems (M = .58, SD = .13) than their sober counterparts (M = .42,SD = .16). They also solved them faster (M = 11.54 s, SD = 3.75) compared to sober controls (M = 15.24 s, SD = 5.57). The study concluded that moderate alcohol consumption improved creative memory tasks. Cheers!

Extra Credit: How was the alcohol administered? Why did they choose men and not women? What did the men do while they consumed their drinks?

Source: Uncorking the muse: Alcohol intoxication facilitates creative problem solving. Andrew F. Jarosz, Gregory J.H. Colflesh ,and Jennifer Wiley. Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Chicago
aimee whitcroft's profile photoDrew Sowersby's profile photoAdam Cook's profile photoPer David Sannes's profile photo
I find that my creativity peaks at about two and a half drinks, though my ability to execute declines.
Makes sense - substances help lower much of our more logical processes, as well as our inhibitions (which can include things we think about, or even HOW we think).
After yesterday's "chocolate makes you slim"palooza, no wonder today booze pops up again. (My execution skills collapse at 0.5 drinks, creativity peak N/A.)
I'm curious if this works for altered states not requiring drugs too - I find I'm at my best when I'm extremely relaxed, like after meditating or yoga or taking a bath... which is about the same as I feel after a good stiff drink. It may take a little longer, but it doesn't tamper with my cognitive skills at the same time.
From the article: superior executive functioning, such as increased attentional control, may in fact be detrimental to reaching creative solutions. Increased attentional control implies that one is better able to screen out peripheral information, which, while useful during analytical problem solving, would be disadvantageous in a situation where the assimilation of information outside of the perceived problem space may be useful.
So far my toddler-induced sleep deprivation hasn't made me more creative - but maybe I'm just too tired to notice.
+Russ Abbott , LOL on the Inebriati and Knights Tippler, thanks! +Amy Knepper and +Jim Douglas : I think caffeine and yoga would improve cognitive skills that require high levels of executive function, working memory and analytical skills...which are precisely the qualities decreased by moderate alcohol. On the other hand, creative or intuitive thinking benefits from this impairment.
I've found arguments that claim that creativity is a combination of divergent and convergent thinking to be compelling. The divergent part increases the number of candidate solutions, the convergent part throws out the duds. A little altered state thinking might fit that pattern so long as one is still sober enough to do the winnowing.
Incredibly interesting, somewhat amusing and, at the same time, depressing for all of us generally-sober professionals. A terrific share, however!
+Gary Jones , the challenge is to titrate the alteration to the point where creativity peaks before it, inevitably, declines :)
In all seriousness, I wonder if there have been controlled studies with LSD that might confirm or refute what Steve Jobs claimed.
+Jim Douglas , the studies have been done (quick search on Google Scholar)..however, I don't know what the consensus is :)
+Rajini Rao I'd have to doubt any results, though, given how very, very differenyl people's brains/creative impulses work, and how they respond to varying substances and mental states :)

And how different starting mental states are, too!
I always found that my pool playing skills peaked at two pints, honest.
..ah ha!
THAT'S why I feel smarter after a couple of beers..
+aimee whitcroft , that's the point of a scientific study isn't it? It is not based on anecdotal evidence but on statistical analysis of a sufficient number of participants who are all different as individuals. A properly controlled study, such as this one, asks if the difference between the conditions being tested rises above the random individual differences between people. The methods section describes in tedious detail how the participants were not allowed to drink coffee and other stimulants before the test, how their weights were taken into consideration so that final blood alcohol level was the same in all of them, etc. That's the beauty of the scientific method!
Now, I am confused as to whether I am creative or even able to think --- since, I do not consume alcohol. I wonder what it is I do do.
+Rajini Rao I only skimmed results from; in a quick glance, I was seeing off-topic results (MDMA), and less-than-controlled studies (discussions with drug users about their personal usage in uncontrolled situations). Are there legal restrictions on performing human tests with illegal drugs? (I guess even animal testing would be problematic if it's not legal to work with the drug.)
+Jim Douglas , I searched lsd + creativity + studies. No, it's not a problem working with "illegal" drugs if the proper paperwork and safeguards are in place. They have to be kept under lock and key with a meticulous log sheet of use (not much different from using radioactivity in lab). I have colleagues who work with cocaine and other drugs.
LOL, +La Vergne Lestermeringolo Thatch're the math expert here. I'd say all crazy people are not insane but all insane people are crazy. Is there a geometric term to describe that? :)
+Rajini Rao Lol, we could create a Venn diagram to display - One circle for crazy, one for insane, the overlap would be highly creative people and everyone outside we must ask, "So, what is your contribution?"
+Jim Douglas in Dr. Richard Strassmans book "DMT the spirit molecule", he covers a few chapters on the paper work involved when dealing with research & controlled substances. I don't think there has been any research on LSD since the early to mid 70s.
+Rajini Rao I understand how scientific studies are done, no need to shout :) Could you link to said paper? My point was simply that I'd still be skeptical given the huge differences between people, but of course I'd like to read the paper before criticising it (or agreeing with it!) in particular :)
Exactly, Venn diagrams rule! :)
FYI--alcohol is one of the least expanding drugs out there. It is only studied in detail because of its impact on societies around the world. If you are interested in expanding creativity and loose associations, DMT and Marijuana are the way to go. But they don't study these for various reasons, one being the fact that they are illicit.

check these out for staters
The link is in the post, filed neatly as Source. BTW, shouting on line is typically indicated by Bold or CAPS. Emphasis is indicated by italics. There is a difference, no? :)
My experience agrees with the trend here ... my creativity peaks around 2-3 drinks.
If anyone wants to glance through the paper (it's an easy read) and bypass the on the link in my post. Then click on View within the Article link within Figure 1. You get taken to a page where you are asked to pay. Ignore, but click on View Abstract link just next to the author line. Voila! :)
This book looks like it might be relevant:
Steve Jobs was convinced that LSD was formative for him, but he had other questionable beliefs, so he's not a completely reliable witness. (It's very difficult to comprehend being told by a doctor that you hit the jackpot and your particular form of pancreatic cancer is highly treatable with surgery, and then spend several months messing around with herbal remedies.)
Agreed, re. Steve Jobs +Jim Douglas . Also, his decision to have a liver transplant and go on prolonged immunosuppressants is widely believed by to have hastened his end.
Now, I am see where a Venn Diagram may be too limiting. We may need to apply some logic, if ...them - Reason - Proof
2-3 drinks of what, with or without sugar, alcohol content, salt? This is absurd. I question the ability of the human to properly dose itself for creativity. Creativity comes from actually thinking about things. People drink to not think. Are we going to repurpose ethanol?
I am now convinced. In order to become a more creative writer, I will take up drinking. Thanks +Rajini Rao! Who's doing the experiment to decide which drink best promotes creativity? Methinks I'll start with scotch.
Let c = crazy and i = insane ....why I am thinking about this? What are the conditional statements? Can this be proven?
+Rajini Rao awesome, thanks :) I had misunderstood, and thought you were referring to another study.
+Drew Sowersby , Figure 1 shows that both sober and intoxicated (defined as within the legal limit for driving) participants could solve RAT problems associated with creative thinking. Both sober and intoxicated participants reported greater cases of intuitive rather than non-insightful solutions. It's just that there is a statistical increase in intuitive thinking, times of solution and number of creative problems solved in the "intoxicated" bunch. Note that the study was careful not to use habitually drunk subjects (hence the term "social drinkers") or go beyond what our commentators term 2-3 drinks at which point all cognitive ability will decline sharply. It's an interesting case of "taking off the edge" so as to enhance lateral thinking (and not higher executive functions). Hope this makes sense.
You're welcome, +aimee whitcroft . Honestly, I found this study to be funny, hence the post. I hope people notice that the differences between the two groups are small! Of course, I'm not advocating any form of substance use ;) Right, +Amy Knepper ?
Wayne S
I'll drink to that :)
Also interesting is the differential effect of alcohol on System 1 as opposed to System 2 (using Daniel Kahneman's terms: System 1 is the fast, intuitive and System 2 is the slow, logical)
+Gnotic Pasta , there was a landmark study on psilocybin (magic mushrooms) conducted by neuroscientists at my institution a few years back. Noteworthy that a world famous scientist, after whom the department is named, describes his personal experimentation with its mystical effects. Other commentators of the study included a Dean, a Director of NIDA (Natl. Inst. Drug Abuse) and a Vice Director of the White House Office of Drug Control Policy. In conclusion, the editors noted, "It is time for psychopharmacologists to open their minds and their laboratories to the full domain of human drug experience. We would do well to be wary of our own preconceptions and prejudgments, and to be prepared to consider the entire scope of human experience and behavior as legitimate targets for systematic and ethical scientific investigation. Griffiths et al. set an excellent example for such a venture." See:
I thought you may be interested :) I don't know about current research though, as this is far from my own field.
+Matt Kuenzel , do you recommend his book? How come he has a Nobel in Economics but writes about Psychology? :)
+Rajini Rao Yes, I thought Kahneman's book was great. Much of the experimental data that he cites is stuff that I had read or heard about but he builds a framework that makes sense of it all. It's very thought-provoking.

Regarding the study you mention, I tend to agree with the sentiment. Many of us use alcohol. caffeine, nicotine to influence the operation of our brains. It seems reasonable to explore the best ways to do that.
I do like to open a bottle of wine when I'm about to brainstorm, OR focus for other things. It helps slow my mind down a bit so I can focus on one thing and not be ADD everywhere with irrelevant data.
I've found that not getting enough sleep works for me!
hahaha, this is great! I've always known there to be this level between sober and three sheets to the wind where I'm just better at things in general. The inebriati nailed it!
Thanks +Rajini Rao I was aware of the studies back when they were being conducted but never read the commentaries (which I'm going to do after i open this beer, thanks for that) I would have to agree with what you quoted, and I know in some limited studies both psilocybin and mdma showed lots of value in the treatment of PTSD (among other things) Entheogens have always been of great interest to me.
yup I'll definitely stop after loosing all my senses and ultimately falling down...LOL ;)
+Amy Knepper it depends what type of meditation, I suppose. Samatha (concentration) meditation might help one focus but not be creative. Vipassana (insight) meditation might help you depending on the problem under study.

Regarding research on psychotropic drugs, I saw an interesting bit on PBS about a researcher in Israel studying THC for PTSD. It turns out that a little weed is a friend indeed, when it comes to forgetting traumatic experiences. One might think that forgetting in general is bad and that we don't need help forgetting things. Imagine if you couldn't control short-term memory. In the PBS bit, they said imagine if you remembered every face you saw today. THC helps the part of the brain that normally allows you to forget what you don't need, i.e., everyone's face you saw today. That part of the brain is claimed to be affected by PTSD. I'll try to look for a link after I decide if I need one more cerveza.
I hadn't heard about THC used for PTSD...interesting...i can tell you there were studies conducted in the 70s by the military for use of THC for warfare. A scientist (who's name i don't recall, but i took some military classes from him) created a super potent "weed" that when smoked dropped the blood pressure of those involved so low, they were unable to get from the floor where they were lying without passing out. (and probably having a large craving for donuts) Here's a link in line with ptsd studies...kind of short, but can't find the articles i had read before.
Thanks, interesting video..PTSD is a very debilitating and any treatment for it, I think should be explored....whoa...way off topic here...time to get back to my laughing dog cream ale and see if i can create something! :-D
love the bit about magic mushrooms, one of my friends concurs on the findings :)......I think the reference to a muse is the reason for choosing men (maybe??)
Wish there was a similar study on changes in intuitive thinking ability after say 30 minutes of engagingly observing your own breath..or listening to music.. In my own experience, I have reached a similar state of mind by doing all three - Observing breath, 3-4 drinks & listening to a particular kind of music...I keep on experimenting with these & next on the list is Hashish :) But we need empirical evidence (and some more research) to really understand how it works..

For those who are interested in the connection, this is a good read:
For me, creativity is closely associated with lucid dreaming, which could be natural or even better - grass induced.
All alcohol ever sparked for me was RAGE (and swollen eyeballs next morning) 0_o
Interesting! Definitely diminishing returns somewhere along the way on this one though...i.e. a glass or two might open up the creativity but more...we've seen some good examples of tweeting after too many!
In a Brain and Behavior class I took in 2004, I had it explained to me like this +Rajini Rao.

A session of drinking begins at the frontal lobes, and with each passing drink moves through the midbrain and towards the occipital lobe or visual cortex and down to the medulla. This seems to mesh with the study. A little bit of loosening of rigid thought and executive function (2-3), followed by loss of inhibition and fear (3-5), followed by significant distortions is vision (5-7) and ending with loss of everything and eventual sleep or death (7-10). The steps are progressive in that each stage will include the stage before it. It also seems to me at least that the laws are constructed such that everything beyond Stage 1 is illegal.

But like I said before (and know from empirical experience), alcohol is not the way to go if you want to expand your creativity. If anything it just motivates you to use it in the first place being that we drain our citizens of that right as soon as they are put into the school system :(
+Drew Sowersby , the study under discussion does not question the physiological, philosophical or moral issues relating to alcohol or for that matter, any mind altering substance. It seeks to address the question whether creative thinking, defined (very) narrowly by performance on remote associates test, is affected by moderate alcohol consumption. I doubt that the authors (and certainly myself) are promoting alcohol consumption as a way to enhance creativity. Whatever one's views on the topic, the data speak for themselves. Note also, that the BAC of the subjects was inside the legal limit, although a more interesting study would have been to look at the effect of BAC levels on the RAT scores.

If there is a flaw in the experimental design or analysis, that would be worth discussing. Otherwise, one must accept the findings of a controlled study, however narrowly applicable. This does not mean that taking a drink or two will inspire output of Shakespearean proportions; in fact, that would be near impossible to test. My view is that it is the job of a scientist is to design an experiment to test a hypothesis without judgement of the morality of the issue, since we know quite well that morals are highly subjective.
I don't question the results, I strongly question the drug choice. And I don't care at all about the moral or social issues. All drugs are easily to access whether they come from pharma or the streets.

If someone wanted to study creativity using a drug model. They unequivocally picked a horrible choice. And did they study divergent thinking? That is the hallmark of creativity. I mean what was going on in Escher's head....
Without reading the article carefully, I suspect they chose alcohol for two reasons 1) it's readily available and legal and 2) you can get consistent product. If you were to get something from the street, you would have to do a fair amount of analytical chemistry to document what you actually are using in the study. Alternatively, you can isolate the active ingredient, e.g., THC from marijuana, but that is a substantial amount of additional work.

As +Rajini Rao stated, you need a well controlled study, absent of bias, for proper scientific research.
On a lighter note, nobody offered answers to my "extra credit" questions :( So, here is the answer to "What were the subjects doing while consuming alcohol"? They were watching Ratatouille. Which leads to the following pertinent questions: why the choice of this movie? And more importantly, why divulge this information at all? :D
+Rajini Rao Yes, a dose-response curve is important to discern biology from the psychologic affect (hey, I'm drunk, now I can relax.)
+J Stasko , agree. Also, is there a threshold effect? And, at which point does the trend reverse (as no doubt, it would). +kiran kumar , the reason they chose men was because of complications in getting human subject approval for women subjects; specifically, in case they were in an early stage of pregnancy and did not know it at the time of the study.
Alcohol seems to be important for people under stress +Feisal Kamil. Are you certain that they weren't experimenting with other stuff as well. Are you absolutely positive that Socrates et al. weren't so driven by their curiosity as to never experiment with the other festivities of nature?

Most of the people I know that drink do so in far excess of 2-3. Probably on the order of 80%. Very non-creative indeed. Anyways wrong place to discuss....poof....
Hmmm...perhaps the movie had some effect on the creative process. That is a very artistic movie that can evoke some emotions. I think that actually skews the results a bit (my opinion from watching the movie myself)
Haha, +Gnotic Pasta , the study design took that into account: "Participants in the sober comparison condition engaged in the same tasks as the intoxication condition including watching Ratatouille, but they did not complete the intoxication procedures (e.g., they did not eat the snack and did not drink a beverage). As participants do not find a BAC of .07 to be credible in placebo studies, a placebo design was not employed." :)
Interesting....Does the study ever say why they chose that particular movie then? (I'm trying to re-wrap my head around this again, but I'm only on my first cup of coffee!)
No, that's why I LOL'ed at the Methods section. P.S. they also chose to tell us that the drink was vodka cranberry. Why not just a dilution of 99% pure lab grade ethanol?
+Rajini Rao and +Gnotic Pasta most likely the answers to your questions are that the study was done in Chicago. ;~). I don't know anyone in the pysch dept otherwise I'd ask them.
+kiran kumar , the comments on that link were quite interesting. I don't think this placebo would fool the control group in this study, but it could have psychological effects in a social situation where no one would know the difference.
OMG, +Chad Haney , imagine if our colleagues at UIC were to see this exchange..luckily I'm not familiar with the Psych dept there but I sure do know the ones in Biochem and Mol Gen. :)
Looks like a reasonable study to me based on the non-pay-walled parts, although failure to use an isocaloric control condition might be a real issue (is this pharmacology or food?). I am generally dissatisfied with "creativity" as a scientific concept, but the RAT is a task I would use too. Regarding psychedelics, Griffiths' group at Hopkins has a recent paper suggesting that participation in their psilocybin studies may have increased the Openness to Experience factor of personality. Though inconclusive, I think that finding is the best evidence so far of psychedelic-related creativity changes. The old studies of LSD and mescaline and creativity are generally not very convincing -- I reviewed them pretty carefully when I was designing an LSD creativity study recently (I had to abandon the study for practical reasons). As with any drug study, I would like to see a dose-response curve. And, as with any potential health/wellness-intervention, I would like to see an active control condition of some sort so I can know how this method compares to the other things one might try (especially those we know to be otherwise healthy, like exercise or socializing).
Thanks for your insight, +Matthew Baggott ! We did discuss the psilocybin Hopkins study above (was it the 2004 paper or a more recent one?), with respect to the commentary on it.
Sorry to diverge more from the creativity aspect of this post but here's a post about using fMRI to study the effect of psilocybin.
Apparently, the personality trait of "openness" is enhanced by psilocybin and is linked to "creativity"..checking it out, thanks +Chad Haney .
And creativity is borne from divergent thinking. That is adjacent hubs relax such that neurons and their dendrites explore and interconnect. This leads to emergent behavior of heterogeneous modules. Ideas and the such are spawned from a cross-pollination of neighboring modules, and research is starting to show this might be gradiental in nature. The further neighboring networks interconnect, the more creative and novelty seeking one will become. Bypassing strong circuits is necessary and drugs usually make the relaxed state much easier to obtain.

To pull up chemistry terminology: A barrier of activation must be overcome to derail normal conditioned circuitry. Activators like drugs are phenomenal at achieving this.
+Rajini Rao I am impressed with the level of engagement that you are able to induce with some of your posts. I jumped in on this one because I have an incredible amount of empirical support for the topic (non-clinical where it matters). Anyone who wants to ping me for experience based data...just call
+Drew Sowersby you've noticed that +Rajini Rao posts are like the creativity study we're talking about right now. Like alcohol, at first it sparks creativity and engagement. After 90+ comments however, you shake your fist and say Rajini did it again. I have to get some work done! Arrrgh. :~)

Bad jokes aside, I really enjoy her posts as well.
Your engagement adds to the enjoyment and learning experience of these G+ posts, +Drew Sowersby , as in the past. You've shared your presentations on topics as diverse as single molecule biophysics to now, cognitive mechanisms. Thank you :)
+Chad Haney , get to work! FYI, I'm polishing up the final touches on a manuscript to be submitted today. So I'm feeling particularly virtuous :)
Good luck +Rajini Rao although you don't need it. My manuscript was accepted with minor revision Monday. Yeah.
Congrats!!!! I hope your good luck rubs off on ours :)
Just two more comments to reach a 100. This WILL be a virtuous new blogging platform at some point: don't you suppose.
I'll settle for intellectually engaging and entertaining, but I can't guarantee virtuosity +Drew Sowersby !
I waited and waited. I figured +Feisal Kamil would be the 100th comment. Now what do I win? I better play the MegaMilliions today (you know the tax for people that are bad at math).
History and probability alone suggests that Mary Jane is probably a contributor to most of the lasting creativity in humans, but this would need to be verified of course. With respect to molecular enhancers ^^
Burn one, hippy old school followed by a barstar fuelup/shot/chaser. Then it's pen/cil to paper. Give'r. Ditch the fear of what will come out and you'll be surprised. I consistently am. The Significator, Searching for meaning.
Good. Sober at work, a glass of wine among friends. Check. :)
God, I love science and statistics!! Let me know when the next edition covering more hallucinogenic substances is released.
So, in short form, creativity is spurred by the loss of sanity and OCD contributes to analytical problem solving.
Wow! I have both in spades, some days. ;)
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