Why a little bit of drinking can inspire creative thinking

There’s a Mitchell and Webb sketch called The Inebriati about a secret society which rules the world, bound by the creed that “humanity is better and more noble after very nearly two drinks”.

It opens with Robert Webb sitting in a white legal wig and gown fretting about his first day as a barrister, when David Mitchell magically appears next to him, hands him two wine glasses, one only half filled, and says: “No buts, just drink.” Flash forward 12 years and the Inebriati have made him President of the World.

A case of art imitating life? Well, perhaps. Scientists in the US have discovered that after drinking just two pints of beer or two glasses of wine, men were better at solving creative brain teasers and answered the questions more quickly than men who were sober.

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The Uncorking The Muse study was led by University of Illinois cognitive psychologist Jennifer Wiley, who said: “If you get a little tipsy, people are significantly better at finding weird, remote answers.

“There is a common belief, when we are trying to think or solve problems, that it really helps us to focus on things. Well, sometimes too much focus might hurt us,” Wiley added.

Countless artists and writers put their best work down to a few shots of absinthe and those who find themselves in the spotlight often resort to some nerve calming spirits. .

British darts champion Andy Fordham has admitted that he relied on alcohol as a tool to numb the pressure and was drunk when he won his world title in 2004: “Before my first ever world champs in 1995, I was incredibly nervous, so I drunk shed loads and the worst thing happened: it worked,” he said in 2007. “You weren’t aware of what was going on behind you, you could just concentrate on what was in front of you, the board. I know it was dreadful for my health, but it just seemed right.”

While boozy office lunches might be a thing of the past (think Mad Men’s whisky in desk drawers), certain companies, including Google London which has a regular Thank Google It’s Friday (TGIF) event, admit to having beer fridges in the office to recognise the fact their staff work long hours. In Silicon Valley, the CEO of app-maker Tello, Joe Beninato, says: “Our philosophy is that if we treat our employees like adults, they’ll respond accordingly.” When an app was chosen for the Apple online store in February, they celebrated with “a little” bourbon.

Harley Street psychologist Dr Massimo Stocchi says our ancestors knew the benefits of a glass of wine only too well: “The Romans were the greatest consumers of two natural products: wine and olive oil. Not only has this tradition developed into one the of the most widely enjoyed liquids but we have to be constantly reminded of the added benefits of this. A glass of wine (even two) helps your body rid itself of unhelpful fatty deposits and makes life that much more enjoyable. Most of us carry the script around that we are not good enough...Add a glass or two and hey presto – you forget about being good enough and simply enjoy the interaction that you’re having.”

But there’s a fine line between alcohol enhancing performance and confidence and it becoming a force for evil. As David Mitchell’s character warns in the Inebriati sketch: “Beyond the state of mildly intoxicated perfection, lies drunken madness, third pints, kebabs and destruction.”

Darts champion Fordham gave up drinking for good five years ago having been admitted to hospital with advanced cirrhosis of the liver, just one of the myriad health problems alcohol can cause, according to Drinkaware, including cancers, stroke, sexual problems and depression.

Clearly for some people, alcohol dependency and long-term abuse can lead to health problems and that can’t be ignored.

Dr Stocchi says: “Be mindful that there is a limit to the dis-inhibited feelings brought on by alcohol – by being aware of your tolerance levels you will be seen to be more sociable, more relaxed and taking the moral of the story to heart – that there is a more confident and definitely good enough person under your skin.”

Tony, a 44-year-old who works in television agrees. “Bear in mind that drinking too much will undo the good work. Cracking ideas are often lost along with many other memories of a good night out. I once devised the greatest TV programme of all time with a friend. We had plotted every minute detail but shamefully the next day neither of us could remember a thing about it and nor could our wives.”