From Billie Holliday and Amy Winehouse to Coleridge and Kerouac, artists have long claimed alcohol and other drugs as muses for their creativity. But is there really a connection between intoxication and inspiration?
Increasingly, science is confirming that altered states of consciousness — whether induced by drugs, alcohol, sleepiness, travel or anything else that removes us from our usual way of seeing the world — do indeed improve creative thought. The inhibition of what researchers call executive functioning, which includes focus and planning — abilities that decline when we’re under the influence — may be what lets us generate new ideas and innovative solutions, instead of remaining fixed on the task at hand.
A recent study published in Consciousness and Cognition explored the effects of moderate drunkenness on people’s creativity, as measured by the commonly used “Remote Associates Test.” The word-association task involves identifying the one word that frequently occurs in tandem with three seemingly unrelated words. For example, the common word linking arm, tar and peach would be pit, which often follows each of the three trigger words.