Your wife sits across from you at the kitchen table, pondering her calendar. The kids have soccer, you have a late shift, she has pilates. Fortunately, scientist can offer some sage and welcome advice: Keep calm, take a deep breath, pop open a bottle of wine—and drink a bit too much. These are the results of a recent study out of Mississippi State University, which found that people with blood alcohol levels of 0.075 (just shy of legal intoxication) are better at creative problem-solving.
“If you need to think outside the box, a few happy-hour drinks or a martini at lunch could be beneficial,” coauthor on the study Andrew Jarosz of Mississippi State University told The Harvard Business Review. “But I wouldn’t close the bar out, because if you get your blood alcohol level too much beyond 0.08, you probably won’t be very useful.”
For the study, Jarosz and colleagues served vodka-cranberry cocktails to a small sample of 20 male subjects until they were tipsy (0.075 blood alcohol levels), and then asked them to solve word-related riddles. One riddle asked: “What word relates to these three: duck, dollar, fold?” (The answer was “bill”. Get it?). Jarosz found that tipsy people solved 13 to 20 percent more problems than sober subjects, and did so more quickly. “You often hear of great writers, artists, and composers who claim that alcohol enhanced their creativity,” Jarosz says. “We wanted to see if we could find evidence to back that up, and though this was a small experiment, we did.”
Jarosz stresses that his research does not suggest that all, or even most fields would benefit from having drunk workers, or problems are best solved tipsy. “Of course, in many other areas—from working through a complicated math problem to operating heavy machinery—sober control of attention remains very important,” he says. “But we think that creative problem solving is one area in which a key effect of drunkenness—loss of focus—is a good thing.”
It is also noteworthy that a small, one-off study of 20 drunk men is hardly a definitive analysis of whether human creativity is mediated by vodka-cranberry cocktails.
“One must not draw conclusions from such a small study,” Daniel Blazer, who has conducted alcohol research at Duke University, told The Observer. “Random error could easily have led to the results.”
At the same time, sipping wine with your partner while solving problems is never bad idea.