Neuroscience, Psychology

Lost in the Sauce

In a piece of research called Lost in the Sauce, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and UC Santa Barbara describe plying their volunteers with vodka and cranberry juice. What they found was that these volunteers saw more solutions to word puzzles — and they saw them faster. The less fortunate, sober, volunteers, subjected to a placebo, were more focused but not as creative.

Moreover, those who’d had consumed alcohol monitored their own thinking less. As we all know, this has a downside – you’re less inhibited and have less cognitive processing capacity when you drink – but the upside is that your mind, free to wander, may see more connections, associations and possibilities. Freed of discipline constraint, your brain won’t notice more but it will notice different things. It too is less inhibited.

F.Scott Fitzgerald and his drinking buddies might have been able to tell you this – but they couldn’t have told you why. What neauroscientists now believe is that creative thinking isn’t linear. It isn’t focused and many great ideas come from the intersection of observations and knowledge that might not, at first, appear to be connected. So although daydreaming is usually something you’re told not to do, it’s heavily implicated in creative thinking. And drinking alcohol frees your mind up to wander around.

This probably doesn’t mean that Mad Men cocktail habits are due to make a comeback. But it does reinforce what many of us have already observed: That our best thinking often comes when we look away from a problem and when we start to relax. Many people have great ideas driving home, in the shower and in their sleep. What’s critical is that you allow yourself time to be doing very little. So switch off the TV, the iPod and now your laptop. Go pour yourself a drink and breathe.

Lost in the Sauce The Effects of Alcohol on Mind Wandering?

Study: Want to be creative? A drink may help!


Angela Baxley, San Francisco

Mark Linares teaching his little sister Elaine to ride her bike on our block.

Mark Linares teaching his little sister Elaine to ride her bike on our block.

Well, it’s official. I’m officially a San Franciscan again.

While I love the weather of Southern California, San Francisco is a city which feeds my mind like no other!

I skipped the Mission this time and landed along Divisadero, strategically planned along the Apple Shuttle route between two bus stops. I have no idea what to call my neighborhood: two blocks from Alamo Square park, two more to NOPA, with both encompassed as the Western Addition.

I have an address without an apartment number, and get to say that my cross street is Golden Gate… but best of all, I have a full size washer and dryer in my apartment. Nothing like renting and lugging laundry in your thirty’s to remind you that you’re living in a bubble land. A step in the right direction, with the washer and dryer, indeed!

Moving day came—today—and my friend Mark was visiting from New York and was my partner in supervision, with two great guys who go by Ashbury & Malone to unload, the only problem was that POD’s didn’t put up the no parking signs to save the spot!

After hours of sitting on the stoop waiting, hoping and praying for anyone to come out of their homes to move their cars so I could start somehow a game of collecting enough spaces on the street — adjacent! — to put the garage sized POD for several days I was nearly delirious with visions of absurdity: moving my entire apartment from a block away, or putting it in the park, maybe?? Anything so as not to lose the opportunity to have Mark help me unpack, and get settled in, this being, what? my fifth move or so in a years time???

Now a funny thing had happened earlier. My landlord left the house, while I was sitting on the stoop and she stopped to talk to me. I asked if she knew who owned the construction truck parked on the street (as it would give me ample space, if the owner would move it) and she pointed out the neighbors and told me some crazy stories. I listened bewildered and wide eyed. I wondered to myself why she’d tell me these stories — after all, I’m a stranger, and this is my first impression of her… what kind of impression did she think she was giving me, I continued…? I snapped back to focus as she was saying that the other neighbors went in on it together to even go so far as to get a restraining order against them. Whoa. What kind of street am I moving on to?!

Well, here I am, obviously in tact, and I’ll wrap it up.

I learned my momma was right. Not that I didn’t already know that. She’s always right. At least I’m pretty sure she is. Anyway, I was on the phone with her, sitting on the stoop while Mark walked up the street. I’d been stuck on the stoop waiting any car movement for hours now. What else could I do?? My momma said pray about it, and I proceeded to tell her the crazy stories about all the neighbors on the block. Again, I wondered what did I get myself into? But I thought perhaps she’d exaggerated, and didn’t know how crazy all of these stories sound to an outsider?

Then it happened. The gate on the big fence on the house she’d pointed out earlier opened and out came an attractive white haired tan man with brilliant blue eyes and he headed to the truck. I gasped, momma heard and said, “What?” I told her that the man, the neighbor I’d been warned not to interact with, but who also owned the truck which could save my moving day had just come out. Momma told me to go over and talk to them, we’re not the type to allow someone else to form our perceptions and perspectives for us.

I did. I have to admit I was terrified. She’d told me some hefty stories, all the while with wild eyes and flushed cheeks.

I smiled, and said hi. I awkwardly asked if that was his truck, as I attempted to explain that I had a POD being delivered (simultaneously wondering if he even know what a POD was, to know what I was even talking about) and finally concluding the world’s biggest sort-of-kind-of-tried-to-ask favor: Could you park your long bed truck elsewhere for the weekend?

I sort-of-kind-of-tried-to-ask but I sort of more just moved straight into breathlessly explaining that I knew just how huge of a favor and imposition it would be if he were to attempt to park his vehicle elsewhere, telling him about my family and my dad with his multiple work vehicles and parking issues to deal with as well…

The Truck that he would have moved to save me. 🙂

And then, it happened. Three separate cars move. All at once. All right directly smack square in front of my apartment.

I thanked Mark, and said I was pleased to meet him, but I had to block these spots!

He said, “here, let me help” grabbing traffic cones to mark the space.

I smiled, how wonderful that worked out. I got to meet my neighbor, and didn’t even have to ask the favor — the favor he knew I was about to ask, the one I wouldn’t fault anyone for declining… I had hesitated worrying what if he had tools in the vehicle and it was broken into while it was parked elsewhere on my behalf?! — and got the best spot for the POD too!

So thus I met my first neighbors, Mark Linares, who living across the street with his wife, Maryline, and two children Mark and Elaine. Apparently Elaine is young, three and half years old, and so I’m super excited to meet her, as she’s about the age of when I last spent a good amount of time with my nieces.