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Does alcohol make you more creative?

Research

The idea that alcohol makes you more creative is not a new one but has it ever been proven? We recently met up with The Drum contributing editor Dave Birss so when we heard of his recent experiment we felt compelled to look in to it.

The premise was simple: split a group of 18 advertising creatives to two groups according to their length of service in the industry. Ply one group with alcohol and restrict the other to sensible beverages. Give them the same project brief (ironically, to tackle binge drinking and drink more water) and see which group comes up with more – and more imaginative – ideas.

Dave had reason to believe alcohol aids creativity. His first piece of long copy for a series of adverts was stuck in a rut until he drank several pints of Guinness. It was the necessary lubricant to get the work done.

His hypothesis, though, was that the three hour experiment would see the drinking group’s ideas peak early and trail off, unlike his anecdotal experience of mastering the task and seeing it through to completion.

Other research has found that problem solving skills are enhanced after two pints of beer or two glasses of wine. It seems people think less and let their insight or intuition do more when they have had a drink: this would appear to be where reduced inhibition comes in. When we think less, we can have a higher output. We know alcohol slows physical reaction times but that’s not true of reaction times to questions in the University of Illinois study, which found the drinking participants answered all their questions in 12 seconds compared to 15.5 in the non-drinker: a clear sign that extra thought process (not bypassed by alcohol) made it a longer task.

Birss found the drinkers came up with 59 ideas compared to the sober group’s 48 – even though two drinkers left early after consuming too much free booze. Both groups had a surge in creativity half way through. The drinkers, however, came up with four of the five best ideas.

To see the ideas and read Birss’s account of the experiment, click here. To find out more about creativity research, don’t reach for the bottle. Try our Understand workshops.

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