It’s a common trope — the creative person, whether they’re a writer or an artist or an actor, is seen drinking large quantities of coffee for their necessary hit of caffeine. This caffeine, the trope goes, is a key part of the creative process, not only helping keep the creator awake and energized, but also engaging their brain and fueling the creative process. The only problem? That’s not how it works, at least according to a new study.
It’s no secret that caffeine can help improve energy levels and focus, which in turn helps people increase productivity and get work done. A new study out of the University of Arkansas, however, has found that caffeine likely isn’t helping creative people by boosting the level of their creativity. The research involved 80 participants, some of whom were given a placebo and others who were given 200mg of caffeine.
The researchers looked into the impact caffeine had on two different types of thinking: divergent and convergent. In this case, convergent thinking is what you likely think of when it comes to things like productivity, getting work done, and solving problems. On the other hand, divergent thinking is what you’d consider creativity — it’s the thinking process that involves coming up with new and interesting responses or solutions to something.
Using what they describe as standard measures of these two different types of thinking, the researchers found that participants given 200mg of caffeine didn’t show any sort of boost in divergent thinking, meaning that it didn’t increase creativity. However, the caffeine did increase convergent thinking and was found to also produce a boost in the quality of the participants’ moods.
Taking the caffeine was not associated with a ‘significant’ increase in working memory. The results indicate that while caffeine may be good for boosting productivity, it probably isn’t helping anyone increase their creativity and come up with new ideas. It is, however, likely a good thing to have around when you need to focus on solving problems and it could be useful for creative people who need to focus on their work.