Pouring a pint of inspiration: Intoxication and creativity

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I’m sure that many of us have experienced how imaginative and creative people get when drunk, both in what they say and do, and luckily science may have a explanation for this behaviour. Even luckier still it looks like the publication shows a positive effect of intoxication! 

Mild intoxication to be precise, the way of the sensible drinker. Jarosz, Colflesh and Wiley (2012, As cited in BPS research digest, March 2012) conducted a study using 40 male students aged 21-30 classed as social drinkers. After abstaining from alcohol for 24 hours prior to the experiment and from food for four, the participants were split in to 2 groups, a control and alcohol condition. The latter condition was given enough vodka to achieve a alcohol blood level in .07, roughly the same as an average male having two pints. Both conditions were then given the remote association test in which they are presented with three words and have to give an extra word that best fits with all three, so spoon, quick and spoon might have silver as the associative word. 

The most important findings from the research and the use of this test is that alcohol condition participants solved more items (58% vs 42%) and solved them quicker (11.54 seconds vs. 15.24 seconds). According to the research participants in the alcohol saw their experience as more insightful and had ‘eureka’ moments in the test. However they failed to do as well as controls on a memory test. Unsurprisingly. 

The researchers speculate that the results are down to alcohol encouraging a diffuse mode of thinking that is useful on tasks that require different thinking. 

I think that in future studies or a repetition of this one, the gender bias needs to be addressed as a beta bias is existing in this research as their is nothing to suggest a differing effect between males and females. A similar view can be taken on the age range used with no evidence suggesting differences in older individuals which may exist especially because of individual differences, for example people having different tolerances to alcohol which is usually effected by body size. 

I think this study could perhaps have some ethical concerns on that basis of giving participants alcohol which is detrimental to an individuals health, however at the same time if people didn’t want drink or did not drink anyway I don’t think they would of taken part, also, the age range used is the stereotypical range of moderate to heavy social drinking (Windle, Mun & Windle). So overall the risks may outweigh the benefits in terms of findings. 

One Concern raised by this research is that it might encourage heavier drinking, to which the reply was that the study was conducted on the grounds of mild intoxication and there is no evidence to suggest that the effects continue or multiply with the more you drink. Though research like this could persuade those who don’t drink to drink a little, or perhaps for those in the arts (who rely on creativity) to drink more heavily. Or perhaps there will be no effect and it will just be another interesting piece of research, fingers crossed. 


Jarosz, A., Colflesh, G., and Wiley, J. (2012). Uncorking the muse: Alcohol intoxication facilitates creative problem solving. Consciousness and Cognition, 21 (1), 487-493. Cited in BPS research digest, march 2012.

Windle, M., Mun, E.Y., & Windle, R.C. Adolescent-to-Young Adulthood Heavy Drinking Trajectories and Their Prospective Predictors. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 66, 313-322.


Embarrassed? Its ok, I’m going to trust you now.


I am sure most, if not everyone who reads this has, at some point been in an embarrassing situation. Look for symptoms such as blushing, the slight ‘burning’ of ears and nervous laughter among other things. However as annoying as the involuntary nature of embarrassment can be recent research suggests that embarrassment is a sign of an altruistic nature, and people can tell this by your embarrassed actions.

This research by Feinberg, Willer and Keltner (2012) conducted five studies in to embarrassment as a non-verbal apology and trust gesture in participants, and looked at the responses of onlookers. Five studies were conducted to help rule out the possibility of alternative explanations, which would help with the validity of the study. In study 1a of the five studies the researchers looked at the relationship between prosocial behaviours and expressed embarrassment. This correlation study used undergraduates, as such lacks external validity, as we cannot generalise such a limited population to the wider world. For example many undergraduates may have an increased embarrassment response compared to a control group as they are in a different setting with different people. The correlational nature of the study is also an issue as it only provides an association as does not point towards the cause of behaviour.

Study 2 looked at the observer ratings of how prosocial participants were. Participants in this study were asked to rate on a scale of prosocial to antisocial where the people from study 1a fell on the scale. It is important to note that the participants in this study were presented with videos of participants from study 1a, as such the individuals from study one may have been under the influences of experimenter effects due to a video camera being placed six feet away from them. The recall of embarrassing situations may also have some ethical ramifications. Overall however, observers rated those with more intense embarrassment as being more prosocial. However the researchers pointed out some possible confounding variables here. For example, those who express apparent embarrassment maybe exhibit other behaviours such as gratitude or fear, which are also considered prosocial behaviour markers.

In conclusion while statistically sound, these studies may have some pitfalls, which could of affected their overall outcomes.


Feinberg, M. Willer, R. & Keltner, D. (2012). Flustered and Faithful: Embarrassment as a sign of prosociality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102. 81-97.

Grogginess: Research into the time of day and problem solving


Weith and Zacks (2011) researched the effects of ‘grogginess’  (operationalised as being dazed or tired from lack of sleep). The research involved 428 American undergraduate students who were participating for course credit. In this research the individuals were categorised into either, morning, neutral or evening types through the use of a measure created by researchers Horne and Ostberg (1971).

To test ‘grogginess’ participants were randomly assigned to either a morning session or an evening session. So in some sessions evening individuals would have had to attend morning session which would suggest they are not able to function as well as at their ‘optimum’ time of day which they reported as the evening. In session participants were presented with three problems, which were marked by individual’s blind to conditions, as such inter-rater reliability was recorded as very high, meaning more valid results.

The problems used in the study were related to either analytic or insight genres and the results showed no differences across time periods for the analytic based questions. However the insight problems had a significantly faster solution rate during the non-optimal times of day than the latter, perhaps indicating that grogginess can influence our powers of insight.

The research points out that it could be a general morning effect related to certain hormones and other processes that could be a contributory factor in this research and therefore a confounding variable. This is due to the large number of ‘evening’ individuals compared to ‘morning’ individuals. To erase such a variable there would have to be an equal number of participants in each time-of-day category, which, unsurprisingly can be difficult with many university age adults.

The implications for this research could be extended to use in chronotherapeutic settings. The research seems to suggest that students might perform better with certain classes at different times of day, e.g. the insight and creativity used in art based classes might benefit with students operating in their non-optimal time range. However this has not been tested, and it would be very difficult to account for all the individual differences between participants.


Weith, M.B. & Zacks, R.T. (2011). Time of day effects on problem solving. Thinking and Reasoning, 17, 387-401. DOI:10.1080/13546783.2011.625663

Horne, J. & Ostberg, O. (1976). A self-assessment questionnaire to determine morningness–eveningness in human circadian rhythms. International Journal of Chronronobiology, 4: 97–110.

Cognitive priming, stereotypes and the effects of words!



is an often used example of cognitive priming, in which people can’t help thinking of something that has just been brought up, or catches their attention. This blog looks at research into cognitive priming and stereotypes and the subsequent effects words have on us.

Bargh, Chen and Burrows (1996) conducted several experiments that ‘primed’ participants with words and examined the effect of word priming on participants (the dependent variable). For example one of the first experiments looked at priming rudeness. Participants in this study were given words to unscramble (either relating to a rudeness, politeness or neutral condition) and then told after they had finished to go to the waiting researcher in another room. Those given the rudeness word puzzle, and therefore those primed with rudeness were expected to interrupt a confederate conversation more than those with either the politeness or rudeness condition. This was timed by a second confederate and is the dependent variable of this particular study.

The result showed that those primed with rudeness interrupted significantly faster than those in the other two conditions and this priming effect has been found in similar studies relating to old age and more socially sensitive with ethnicity stereotypes.

One methodological criticism I can draw already across these experiments is that all the participants involved were university undergraduates, as such the studies have little external validity in that the behaviour of the students cannot be generalised to many other groups within the population, and the experimental conditions do not truly reflect real life occurences.

While I assume the research is statistically sound (using complicated things I don’t understand yet, such as ANOVA’s and MANOVA’s) The researchers point out that there research has several issues, which may have affected the outcome of results.

One such issue is a ceiling effect with the first study, which occurred because of a time limit set in which the participants were expected to interrupt. 21 out of 34 participants did not interrupt within the ten minutes, which means there is the possibility they may have interrupted after the ten minutes had elapsed, resulting in this ceiling effect which could of strongly effected the data.

Other issues include participant variables across all three of the studies conducted by Bargh, Chen and Burrows (1996). For example some personality types/people may be more prone to interrupting anyway, depending on factors such as mood or even upbringing. The students may not have wanted to interrupt someone they respect, or whom they think is important. I know personally that if I were in that situation I would not want to interrupt a researcher or lecturer mid conversation. We cannot ignore socioeconomic, age, or ethnicity factors playing apart in these studies either

A reader’s digest-esque summary of the Bargh, Chen and Burrows studies (1996) can be found here:


And after that post, here’s something a little more light hearted (also consider the priming effect the song has on you?)


Bargh, J.A., Chen, M. & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of Social Behaviour: Direct Effects of Trait Construct  and Stereotype Activation on Action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 230-244.

The Media and Psychology: Colour preferences in males and females.

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This blog is about the Hurlbert and Ling (2007) study on colour preference, and a subsequent newspaper article (Henderson, 2007). The latter article describes the findings from the original study as biological differences in colour preference. I personally find this to be a slightly misleading title, as the article and the study itself appear to come to the conclusion that it is evolutionary gender roles that caused these differences. Another problem with the title is the on going dispute as to whether or not studies in psychology can be called scientific, especially those that could be considered unfalsifiable, such as those following the evolutionary approach. The article itself outlines the study quite consicely and highlights key features of the scientific method, which, while not directly alluded too at some points, can be discerned from the article. For example, explaining points about the experimental procedure and participants.

One key issue regarding both the paper and the article is the finding that the Chinese students showed a preference for the colour red. The article deemed this a significant culture bound attribution related to evolution, which makes sense as evolution came first. One small problem here is that this finding may be purely culture bound as few other cultures regard the colour red in the same way. Consequently another issue that arises from this is that of culture bias, wherein the findings from research such as this may be generalised to other cultures, especially if based on a phenomenon such as evolution.

Overall the news report implied that the differences in colour preferences in males and females were down to several different factors based on evolution. However the headline seems to imply that there may have been significant sociological implications rather than just a foundation for such work. It also seems to suggest that colour preferences are universal among all children, and attributable choices from all parents. In relation to the study much, if not all the information was gathered from the journal, though in my opinion, as with much of media, a certain amount of bias is involved in such reports. For example the addition of one of the researchers favourite colours. This may reinforce ideas such as the findings being conclusive, while in fact, it may hold no bearing on the actual experiment.


Hurlbert, C. & Ling, Y. (2007) Biological components of sex differences in colour preference. Current Biology, 17, R623-R625.                               DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.06.022

Henderson, M. (2007, Aug 21). At last, science discovers why blue is for boys but girls really do prefer pink. The Sunday Times:


Earworms- the song thats stuck in your head; research and its issues.

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Earworms are a term used in psychology and in everyday life to describe any songs that you can’t get out of your mind. This particular area of psychology has been limited with a distinct lack of empirical evidence but this has changed with recent research. Beaman and Williams (2009) looked into earworms and began gathering background data. They found in their experiments, among other things that earworms occurred more frequently in those who considered music important, and that the prevalence of an earworm was more determined by exposure and simplicity rather than being related to any specific genres. One particular issue with this research is the assumption that earworms are more prevalent among musicians, when no concrete empirical study has been conducted for which an informed opinion can be created.

Stage one of this study used a questionnaire based method of research. Though this suggested a prevalence of earworms through receptiveness and exposure, questionnaires always come with risks of phenomena such as social desirability bias. For example, participants may of not previously heard of the earworm phenomenon and given false information, or may have given misleading information on the part of the questionnaire pertaining to how annoying and interfering earworms may be. This particular critique is backed up by the study’s discussion stating that some of the questionnaire questions implicitly assumed the earworm phenomena was already known. The retrospective nature of a questionnaire in this area also gives problems, as recollection bias may occur. this is when distortions in memory may make some memories easier or harder to recall in the present, leading to certain possible biases.

In this study however Beaman and Williams had a second step in their methodology that addressed the limitations of the first step. This diary study looked at participant incidences of occurring earworms as they happened. Though this appears to combat the shortcomings of the first study, retrospection and therefore recollection bias could occur, for example, if a person forgot to record an earworm in their diary and wrote it in later. As such memory distortions may still effect the result.


Beaman C.P. & Williams, T.I. (2009). Earworms (‘stuck song syndrome’): Towards a natural history of intrusive thoughts. British journal of psychology, 101(4), 637-653.Retrieved from: http://centaur.reading.ac.uk/5755/1/earworms_write-upBJP.pdf

The reconstruction of alcohol induced blackouts- Research issues

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Research undertaken by Nash and Takarangi (2011) looks at how people attempt to reconstruct blackouts induced by alcohol consumption. Though this research is important in adding to the already present literature on the subject,  there are some methodological flaws.

For example when investigating this their sample consisted solely of students. Though stereotypically a good sample for this particular area of research, we must consider the lifestyle of students and the setting of intoxication. This is because these may not be generalisable to other populations. For example a student may become intoxicated on a night out and black out, whereas others may be drinking due to an issue such as alcoholism or using alcohol as a coping strategy. These small differences can have big effects when we consider recall as students are more likely to rely on friends to aid recall (which is sometimes a dubious practice) whereas other populations may use other methods, and as the blackouts among students are generally linked to stereotypical student behaviour (as suggested by the study where hypothetical scenarios related to parties and recreation), we cannot generalise this study to other populations and it is therefore low in external validity.

The experiment itself also highlights issues. For example, Contamination of reconstructions. The report states that 16.9% of participants had been told of something they had done during a blackout, only to find later that it had been false. As such the experiment has run the risk of it itself being contaminated by (unintentional) false reports from its participants on the nature of their blackouts. Studies conducted in the area of false memories such as those by Loftus and Pickrell (1995) suggest it can be surprisingly easy to plant false memories in individuals.

In addition to its methodology this research could be analysed in terms of ethical issues. The nature of the research may lead individuals to feel put upon to divulge potentially embarrassing or incriminating evidence, which consequently they may be fearful to reveal and may induce a great deal of stress, so issues such as participant harm and confidentiality need to be approached carefully in this instance.
Overall, research such as this needs to be particularly careful in terms of it’s methodology as it can relate to sensitive issues such as innocent people taking the blame for crimes they have not committed. As such it’s overall importance is vindicated by the fact it may be able to help overcome problems such as the latter.

Loftus, E.F. & Pickrell, J.E. (1995). The formation of false memories. Psychiatric annals, 25, 720-725.

Nash, R., and Takarangi, M. (2011). Reconstructing alcohol-induced memory blackouts.   Memory, 19 (6), 566-573. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09658211.2011.590508

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