Researchers at the University of Chicago just confirmed what a lot of guys have always suspected: having a few beers may actually make us smarter. Or at least it makes us solve more brain teasers more quickly than our less lubricated brothers.
No, this doesn’t mean you should drink more. What happens is that while alcohol may enhance creativity, it does so by reducing our working memory. “Working memory capacity is considered the ability to control one’s attention,” said Jennifer Wiley, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in an interview with the FABBS Foundation. “It’s the ability to remember one thing while you’re thinking about something else.” A slight reduction in working memory is fine if you’re sitting in a bar, but if you’re behind the wheel where you need to be able to pay attention to a whole bunch of things at the same time, it’s always nice to be aware of your surroundings.
Wiley and her team found that at 0.07 blood alcohol–which is just a touch below the legal limit of 0.08 in most places– “people were worse at working memory tasks, but they were better at creative problem-solving tasks,” says Wiley.
“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,” says Wiley. “But that’s not necessarily true. Innovation may happen when people are not so focused. Sometimes it’s good to be distracted.” Again, in a bar it’s fine to be distracted. Driving a car or working a piece of heavy machinery or doing brain surgery, not so much.