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Am J Psychol. 1994 Summer;107(2):173-206.

On the enhancement of creativity by alcohol: pharmacology or expectation?

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  • 1Research Institute on Addictions, Buffalo, NY.


Creative individuals may use psychoactive drugs to enhance their ability to produce creative works, but it is difficult to differentiate the pharmacological effects from other influences. Part of the problem is that creativity defies any simple definition, making it hard to determine when or how much creativity is evident. The other major obstacle is that life circumstances are confounded with the propensity to use drugs (including alcohol), so the causal relation of drugs to creativity is uncertain. We examined this question by an experiment in which subjects were asked to creatively combine pictures of wildflowers that were implicitly organized around a set of three dimensions: color, shape, and number. Pharmacological and expected effects of alcohol were dissociated in the experiment by using the balanced placebo design (BPD). The results showed no pharmacological effect of alcohol on the creative combinations that subjects produced. However, the novelty and structural recombination of the wildflower arrangements were enhanced when subjects thought they had consumed alcohol, whether or not they had actually done so. Implications for measuring creativity and the possible motivation to use drugs for creative effect are discussed.

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