Caffeine helps you be a better problem solver, but it can hurt this skill

Photo: Andrew Neel

It goes without saying that many people think caffeine is the secret to getting her a creative hump.

In the office, it’s practically essential for creative-types. Whether it’s a nice cup of coffee from a neighborhood coffee shop or an energy drink from the cafeteria, the idea is for caffeine to help power through a day and get the creative juices flowing.

Recent research has even pointed to the positives associated with caffeine. Scientists suggested people should drink more coffee to prevent certain diseases, like drinking between one and three cups of coffee daily can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by 11%.

Like coffee, the immediate benefits of energy drinks can be experienced almost instantaneously, but energy drinks do more harm than good in the long run, according to researchers. And in the case of trying to enhance your creativity, say with writing or even on the job, caffeine from both coffee and energy drinks don’t do much aside from heightening the ability to focus and problem solve, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Arkansas published their findings in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, where they searched to find how effective caffeine is on creativity. While caffeine is known to increase alertness, brain function, and may even help boost long-term memory, researchers wanted to find out how the stimulant affects creativity.

“In Western cultures, caffeine is stereotypically associated with creative occupations and lifestyles, from writers and their coffee to programmers and their energy drinks, and there’s more than a kernel of truth to these stereotypes,” wrote Darya Zabelina, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arkansas and first author of the study, in a press release.

Researchers followed 80 participants who were given either a placebo pill or a 200mg caffeine pill, which is the equivalent to one strong cup of coffee (12 ounces), according to the study.

Participants’ problem-solving, creativity, memory, and the mood was tested through the course of the study. The results found that while problem-solving abilities improved, the same wasn’t to be said for memory or creativity. Caffeine had little effect in those sectors aside from making participants feel “less sad,” according to researchers.

One of the main points Zabelina tried to differentiate convergent from divergent thinkings. Think of convergent thinking as finding a specific solution to a problem, or finding the correct answer, like when taking a test. Divergent thinking is more about brainstorming and being open to other possibilities that can potentially be a solution. In the study, conference thinking improved with caffeine but consuming it had no significant impact on divergent thinking.

“The 200 mg enhanced problem-solving significantly, but had no effect on creative thinking,” Zabelina said. “It also didn’t make it worse, so keep drinking your coffee; it won’t interfere with these abilities.”

Regardless of your stance on caffeine, it plays a pivotal role in modern culture. Past research found how our blood is full of caffeine, which goes to show just how popular it is. Small quantities of caffeine also benefit reading, as it accelerates how fast we read the text.

There are negative side effects of caffeine such as withdrawal since caffeine is physiologically and psychologically addictive. Caffeine can also have a negative impact on sleep, according to additional research.