A new study has found that a modest amount of alcohol can tend to make people more creative, facilitating problem solving and other mental tasks by reducing the person's attention span, which helps the brain make associations that may not be obvious to the sober.
Researchers at the University of Illinois found that at a 0.07 blood alcohol level, most people's performance in memory-related tasks falters, but their ability to complete creative tasks increases. A 0.07 blood alcohol level is just slightly under the level most states use to define whether a person is legally "drunk" or not. While the number of drinks required to reach 0.07 blood alcohol varies from person to person, the average man will reach that level after four drinks in 1-2 hours, whereas the average woman will reach that level after three drinks in the same period of time.
Cognitive psychologist Jennifer Wiley, who led the study, said that it works by reducing a person's overall "working memory capacity," which controls attention span. Reducing the amount of information one can hold in working memory seems to increase creative problem-solving ability, but reduce the ability to analytically focus on a single subject.
"We have this assumption, that being able to focus on one part of a problem or having a lot of expertise is better for problem solving," she explained. "But that’s not necessarily true. Innovation may happen when people are not so focused. Sometimes it’s good to be distracted."
A similar study published earlier this year in the journal Consciousness and Cognition found that men's creativity benefits from consuming a moderate amount of vodka. In that study, two test groups were set up to determine who had better creative problem-solving skills and the sober folks lost, leading researchers to speculate that alcohol may facilitate word associations and other creative pursuits by lowering a person's ability to control and finely focus their thoughts.
While some alcohol enthusiasts will take these studies as license to consume even more, that's still not recommended. A study by the medical journal Lancet published in 2010 placed alcohol atop the list of drugs that cause the most harm to users and those around them, attributing more damage to booze than to heroin, crack cocaine or methamphetamine, which are typically, and incorrectly, regarded as the most dangerous illegal drugs going today.
The Centers for Disease Control says alcohol abuse is responsible for approximately 79,000 preventable deaths in the U.S. every year. Long term health risks associated with regular consumption include depression, anxiety, dementia, stroke, hypertension, various cancers, liver disease and social problems, like unemployment and violent behaviors.
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