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Drinking Coffee Can Boost Focus And Problem Solving Skills—But Not Creativity

While a quick coffee break might seem like a great idea when you’re at work and feeling uninspired, a recent study has found that it might not be the most suitable solution to power up creative thinking.

Researchers from the University of Arkansas examined how caffeine influences our capacity to do two cognitive tasks, which are problem-solving and brainstorming. They discovered that while taking in caffeine radically improved problem-solving skills, solving problems quicker and more accurately, it has no impact on people’s capacity to conceive new ideas.

Why? Well, the brain works in totally distinct ways when it comes to these two tasks.


Factors Behind the Result

On one side of our brains, we have “convergent thinking,” which is our capacity to come up with one accurate solution and is linked to problem-solving. It involves various cognitive processes, like executive control, as well as focused observation. The reason why we feel more alert and awake and why it seems like we have more focus and energy when we drink coffee is because it stimulates our central nervous systems.

Then, we also have “divergent thinking” on the other side, which is linked to brainstorming and involves thinking of a broad range of replies that are unique or interesting. It requires “spontaneous thought,” lower awareness levels, and decreased cognitive control. This information explains why other studies imply that creativity can be triggered by boredom.


The Study Itself

Researchers had 88 participants with an average age of 21, which they each provided with a 200 mg caffeine pill—equivalent to a strong cup of coffee, or a placebo. Then, the participants were asked to answer 72 problem-solving questions along with three open-ended prompts. For instance, they had to come up with issues that would stem from having the ability to walk or fly with no vehicle or aircraft.

It’s likely that 200 mg isn’t enough caffeine to affect people’s capacity to create ideas, as the research authors concluded. Most folks can safely consume a daily dose of 400 mg caffeine, which is approximately two potent cups of coffee. However, drinking over that can lead to shakiness, anxiety, headaches, sleep issues, dehydration, and a rapid heartbeat.

Some Tips for Creativity

While more caffeine can potentially make you uncomfortable, one great news is it doesn’t have a negative effect on your creativity, according to study author Darya Zabelina, who is also an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arkansas. Coffee has more benefits that you can enjoy too, as it’s been proven to boost moods, which could be helpful if you’re going into a brainstorming session or finishing a creative project.

If you’re still in need of a booster for your creative mind, though, there are a lot of other science-backed methods to help you do just that. Other researches have proven that taking a walk in nature gets the free flow of ideas rolling in. Also, naps have been shown to develop your memory and focus way better than drinking coffee.

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