Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Does Beer Actually Make You Smarter?

I'm sure you have heard about this new study that says drinking beer makes you smarter. If you actually read the article it tells a slightly different story. Researchers in the Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Chicago, recruited 40 guys from Craiglist and got half of them drunk while watching the Disney movie Ratatouille. Subjects were given vodka (Smirnoff) and cranberry juice at a dose of 0.88g/kg of body weight. To put this in perspective: I'm a big guy at 106kg. This would put my dose at 93 grams of alcohol, or almost an entire six pack of 6.5%ABV Switchback IPA! All this booze was consumed in 10 minutes. This was supposed to make you smart? I doubt I could talk after this.

Boozy and sober subjects were asked a series of questions that used more creative thinking, rather that analytical problems. The creative test used was the Remote Associates Test (RAT). RAT is thought to be a more creative test which challenges subjects to find proper word pairs. You are given three words (Peach, Arm and Tar) and must find a fourth word that will pair with them. In this case, the best answer would be 'Pit'. These question were given in a rapid succession with limited time to solve them. The results were striking: drunk people solved 40% more problems than sober people. They also solved them quicker. It took the imbibers 12 seconds as opposed to the teetotalers with 15.5 seconds.

How is this possible? There is the popular belief that substance abuse can lead to creative thinking. Many great artists were perpetually whacked: Hemingway (booze), Coleridge (opium) and Hunter S. Thompson (uummm, everything). There are a few theories about how this can be possible. Working Memory Capacity (WMC) in the brain is associated with the ability to concentrate and solve analytical problems. Think of this as left brain (logical) function. This WMC is useful for certain tasks but might be detrimental for the creative process. Creative processes often requires divergent or discontinuous thinking. The authors of this study surmised that intoxication lead to a less focused mind (suppressed WMC) and a more diffuse attention state. In other words, your logical left brain takes a break while your creative/intuitive right brain takes over. Seems logical, however after a few it may seem like a creative solution.

I also wondered why the animated movie Ratatouille was chosen. Do animated mice have a neutral effect on cognitive function. Dr. Jennifer Wiley, one of the authors of the study, said, "we actually used it because the other alcohol lab in our department used it and we were just trying to keep the procedure as similar to the "standard" as possible." Perhaps it was a better choice than Fantasia

1 comment:

meterman said...

Good article!
I'm going to be soo creative tomorrow after the Boch tasting.