Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. –Benjamin Franklin A woman drove me to drink and I didn’t even have the decency to thank her. –WC Fields If you are a man, then I’m about to rock your world in a good way. A recent study by researchers at the University of Illinois, Chicago has confirmed what men have claimed all along: beer makes men smarter. I know what you’re thinking: “I didn’t know Homer Simpson was a researcher at University of Illinois!” Homer, of course, has been credited with saying, “Alcohol, the cause and solution to all of life’s problems.” In order to provide happiness to men everywhere, the University of Illinois researchers devised a bar game in which 40 men were given three words (those three words were not “Come here often?”) and told to come up with a fourth that fits the pattern. For example, the word “cheese” could fit with words like “blue” or “cottage” or “Swiss.” Half the players were given two pints of beer. The other half got nothing. The result was that those who had downed the beer were able to solved 40% more of the problems that their sober counterparts. Also, the drinkers finished their problems in 12 seconds while it took the non-drinkers 15.5 seconds. Even at a 0.07 blood alcohol level, just short of what could get you arrested for drunk driving, men were better at creative problem-solving tasks although worse at memory tasks. As a result, somewhere on the globe the world’s most interesting man is creatively enjoying his Dos Equis. One thing I can tell you is this: getting enough people to enroll in the typical clinical trial is hard as hell. It can cost millions and take years. I am guessing that this particular trial was oversubscribed. Pharmaceutical companies take note: if you make your trials more entertaining and serve alcohol, people will line up to participate. The woman in charge of this beer research project is men’s favorite psychologist Jennifer Wiley. She reported her findings on the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (FABBS) site, saying that beer makes men more creatively intelligent “…because the alcohol helped study participants access remote ideas, ideas that develop through association not linear analysis. In fact, linear reasoning can keep people focused on ideas they think are important but really aren’t. We have this assumption, that being able to focus on one part of a problem or having a lot of expertise is better for problem solving, but that’s not necessarily true. Innovation may happen when people are not so focused. Sometimes it’s good to be distracted.” Wiley and her co-researchers also found that men are more likely to solve a problem when working in groups of three rather than two. “In groups of two, we tend to be more polite, not to confront or ask questions,” Wiley said. “But when you respond to a question in a group of three, you’re not confronting, you’re speaking up for the whole group.” I think she may be interpreting her data incorrectly. It is way less fun to play quarters in groups of two; three or more? Now that’s a party.
Other experts, who must be women, said that, “while the findings were interesting and made sense, they stressed that sleep is probably just as beneficial for enhancing creativity. Past research showed that people who were allowed to sleep after being given a problem were also more likely to come up with a creative solution compared to those who stayed awake.” In my personal research, I have also noticed that men like to sleep, so I am guessing this variation on a theme is ok with them. There is another relatively recent set of studies, however, that could seriously limit the circumstances around when exactly beer makes men smarter. An article entitled “Men just can’t think straight when women are around“ described research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology which found that males can actually experience a mental decline when interacting with women. Such temporary lapses in memory or mindfulness are more common “if the woman is attractive and men report trying to impress her,” according to the study’s Dutch authors.
First reported in the U.S. in Scientific American, the study from Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands showed that while heterosexual men’s cognitive performance was impaired when they were around women, the same effect did not occur with women who were around men. While just the anticipation of interacting with a woman could impair men’s mental performance, the study found that women’s anticipated interactions with men changed women’s capabilities not one iota. Apparently women make men stupid but men make women…wish they had a beer. It is worth considering that, taken in combination, these various studies show that alcohol may make men smarter but women make men stupider, thus causing the universe to achieve equilibrium. Of course, this puts the whole impact of St. Pauli Girl into question; it may be the one brand of beer that causes equilibrium all on its own.
The combined body of research would also suggest that men’s best problem solving years are when they are not interested in the opposite sex, such as when they are in utero, although it is much harder to access beer from that location. It also suggests that if business leaders and policy-makers intend to use beer as a management tool to enhance innovation in our very innovation-focused efforts to jump-start a job recovery, such actions should be limited to environments where men will be alone amongst themselves, such as in those 1980’s Old Milwaukee commercials. Of course, these new finding also have broad branding implications for the beer industry. I have a few suggestions for updated advertising slogans to get them started:
Miller Lite: Tastes Great, Less Stupid
Coors Lite: It Won’t Slow You Down…Unless There’s Chicks Around