Coffee has long been the fuel for creatives. Back before it became the remote workplace for the laptopped bourgeoisie, the coffee shop was (and still is) the place folks went to write, draw, argue philosophy, play chess, and do just about anything where a healthy dose of creativity is required. Coffee, it was generally thought, provided the boost in outside-the-box thinking, so if you were planning on a day of intense ideating, why not do it at a place where the literal creative juices were seemingly endless?
Well as it turns out, a new study shows this centuries old line of thinking to be completely wrong; coffee doesn’t in fact make you more creative. If this bums you out, don’t worry. The same study also states that coffee can boost your mood.
Appearing in the March edition of the journal Consciousness and Cognition, Percolating Ideas: The Effects of Caffeine on Creative Thinking and Problem Solving is the work of Darya Zabelina and Paul J. Silvia, assistant professors of psychology at the University of Arkansas and the University of North Carolina Greensboro, respectively. For the study, Zabelina and Silvia wanted to break down caffeine’s affect on “convergent” and “divergent” thinking. Per a press release, convergent thinking can be better understood as “seeking a specific solution to a problem,” in particular problem solving and focus. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is described as “idea generation where a large set of apt, novel or interesting responses would be suitable.”
To test caffeine’s effect on these modes of thought, Zabelina and Silvia gave 88 volunteers either a 200mg caffeine pill (equivalent to a 12oz cup of coffee) or a placebo. The volunteers were then “tested on standard measures of convergent and divergent thinking, working memory, and mood.” They found that while caffeine had no effect on divergent thinking or working memory, it had significantly enhanced problem solving/convergent thinking and test subjects who received caffeine reported feeling “less sad,” which is probably the saddest way to say “happier.”
Zabelina did note that caffeine also had no negative impact on creative thinking, “so keep drinking your coffee; it won’t interfere with these abilities.”
So sorry, next great American novelist, coffee unfortunately won’t make you come up with the next Absalom, Absalom!, you’re going to have to rely on your own mental horsepower to get you there. The good news is though, once you’ve got that idea—perhaps a Southern Gothic tale of a creative’s journey to feeling less sad—a healthy dose of coffee will help you get that pen to paper.
Top image © Adobe Stock/David Gilder