Pint of Beer

Men who've had a few drinks often feel smarter, and according to a new study, it may not be all in their head.

Researchers gave 40 men a series of brain teasers and found that those who had a pint or two of beer performed better than sober men, answering more questions correct in a shorter amount of time.

Participants were given a series of three words, such as peach, arm and tar, and were asked to find a word that forms a compound with all three -- pit, in this example (peach pit, armpit, tar pit). People whose blood alcohol content was around .07 were much better at answering the questions than sober people.

Researchers said that although being under the influence hurt the participant's memory, it stimulated their creativity, allowing them to come up with more imaginative solutions to a problem.

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, Jennifer Wiley, lead author and cognitive psychologist at the University of Illinois, told the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences. But that's not necessarily true. Innovation may happen when people are not so focused. Sometimes it's good to be distracted.

The idea that, in moderation, alcohol increases your creativity is nothing new, researchers said. But no one had ever put it through its scientific paces before.

A popular belief is that altered cognitive processing may spark creativity among artists, composers, writers and problem solvers, the authors wrote. The use of alcohol in particular has been linked to the accomplishments of many great individuals including Beethoven, Poe, Hemingway, Coleridge, Pollock, and Socrates.

The study is the latest to espouse the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. Previous studies found that having two drinks or less per day is linked to a host of beneficial effects such as a reduced rate of diabetes, heart disease, dementia and bone loss. However, moderate drinking has also been linked to an increased risk of mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colon and breast cancer.

Researchers aren't sure what effect higher quantities of alcohol would have on creativity -- they only tested moderate consumption.

We tested what happens when people are slightly merry, not when people drink to extreme, Wiley told the Daily Mail. The bottom line is that we think being too focused can blind you to novel possibilities, and a broader, more flexible state of attention is needed for creative solutions to emerge.

The journal Consciousness and Cognition published the study on April 4.