Wine, the fruit of the gods. The drink that has waged wars and created peace. For some, it is a personal savior, and yet for others, it is a haunting demon. But interestingly enough, the exact thing can be said for creative writing. And what happens if we combine these two vices of the human condition?
Well, according to one study, we may find that our writing is much improved.
Can Wine Help with Creative Writing
Researchers at the University of Graz have discovered that a little wine spirit can indeed help to break writer’s block. The research was published in Consciousness & Cognition by Dr. Mathias Benedek, where they extol the merits of ‘mild alcohol intoxication’ on this whole business of creative cognition.
The study put 89 (I like to think that the plans were for a round number, like 50, but then the free wine sign was left out…) volunteers to the task of solving creativity-measuring exercises after imbibing in alcohol. The only stipulation the volunteers had to contend with, outside of addressing the challenges, is that some were given actual alcohol-containing beverages while others got cruel but equally tasting substitutes.
The volunteers were encouraged to drink until their blood alcohol content reached 0.03%, also known as half the drinking limit for drivers in England.
This means that the alcohol drinkers were left with mild intoxication. Those that did not receive alcohol were left to contemplate whether the buzz they were feeling was real or it was just the excitement of being in a free alcohol study, no doubt a bucket list item for many drinking enthusiasts.
To the relief of many of the participants, the tasks involved word association challenges instead of the scarier imagined activities to do while mildly intoxicated, such as tightrope walking or juggling sharp knives. An example of a word task might be to find a link between words such as ‘cottage,’ ‘blue,’ and ‘cake.’
The correct answer would have been ‘cheese’ in this case, although I would have given special consideration to an answer of “birthday smurf.”
The subjects were also required to come up with creative uses for ordinary objects, such as an umbrella. The study did not specify as to how many participants tended to have solutions of a more risque nature, but on the whole the slightly impaired group did better on the tests. How could this be?
Why It Worked
Thankfully they saved the scientific explanation until after the experiment was complete. Otherwise, it would have been a major buzz kill. But according to the journal article, Dr. Benedek attributes much of the successful problem solving to reduced ‘cognitive control.’ Such control can often serve as a hurdle to solving creative tasks due to fixation effects.
As it turns out, people of the human persuasion tend to develop a mental fixation when an initial solution gets on the wrong track. But having such a fixation on their initial attempt is often detrimental to solving the problem, which often requires restructuring the problem and using a fresh approach.
The mildly impaired subjects found it easier to change their approach to the task, which in turn produced more successes.
The Key is Moderation in Consumption
Dr. Benedek is quick to point out that the key to putting this effect to practical use is to limit the alcohol to very modest amounts. I would think that this is very important, especially given the way the mechanics work.
Otherwise, the same reduction of fixation on a problem approach may lead to a complete lack of fixation, and you may find yourself doing something else entirely that is more enjoyable or interesting to an imbibed mind.
So, according to scientific study, go ahead and enjoy your favorite alcohol before and during writing, whether it is Budweiser, Cabernet Sauvignon or Denis Mackenzie’s Winery.
The important thing to productivity is that you practice moderation while you drink. You want just enough of an effect to knock down those self-imposed walls to creativity without ending up on an alcohol-fueled adventure. Although if you do go too far in your imbibing and find yourself in an unusual situation, try to take notes since that may serve as inspiration for future creative writing.
After all, I’m pretty sure it worked for Edgar Allen Poe.