Are you more creative when you're drunk? It's one of those soundbites that you're liable to hear a friend spout off somewhere between their fourth and fifth beer — a little factoid that might actually sound somewhat feasible if only there were a scientific study lying around to back it up.
Fortunately for you, Jonah Lehrer — master of ceremonies over at Frontal Cortex — has served up a recently published study that proves that being drunk can, in fact, be great for creativity. (As an added bonus, he throws in a second paper that shows the same can be said about being sleepy.)
So how do alcohol and grogginess help you wring as much creative juice out of your brain as possible? According to Lehrer, they both help us "consider irrelevant information... eavesdrop on all the stray associations unfolding in the far reaches of the brain. We are more likely to find the answer because we have less control over where we look." He continues:
A brand-new study by scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago compared performance on insight puzzles between sober and drunk students. (They were aiming for real intoxication, giving students enough booze to achieve a blood alcohol level of 0.075.) Once the students achieved "peak intoxication" the scientists gave them a battery of word problems – they're known as remote associate tests – that are often solved in a moment of insight. Here's a sample problem. Your task is to find the one additional word that goes with the following triad of words:
Cracker Union Rabbit
In this case, the answer is "jack." According to the data, drunk students solved more of these word problems in less time. They also were much more likely to perceive their solutions as the result of a sudden insight. And the differences were dramatic: The alcohol made subjects nearly 30 percent more likely to find the unexpected solution.