There’s no doubting caffeine has cognitive benefits – it makes you feel more alert and more focused, to name just two. And now scientists have found it helps with problem solving, especially when convergent thinking is needed.
Writing in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, University of Arkansas researchers explain the concept of convergent thinking. It’s when you need a specific solution to a problem, such as finding the correct answer, they say. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is when you need to explore lots of possible solutions to a problem, not just one answer.
Eighty volunteers took part in the study. They were given either a 200mg caffeine pill (which is about the same amount you’d get in a strong cup of coffee) or a dummy pill (placebo). Then they took part in experiments that tested their convergent and divergent thinking. Those who took the caffeine pill found their convergent thinking skills had improved. But it didn’t help with divergent thinking, apparently.
The researchers also measured the results the caffeine had on the volunteers’ creativity. After all, drinking coffee is a stereotypical behaviour associated with creative people such as writers. But guess what? Caffeine didn’t affect the volunteers creativity.
“In Western cultures, caffeine is stereotypically associated with creative occupations and lifestyles, from writers and their coffee to programmers and their energy drinks,” says Darya Zabelina, assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the study.
“The 200mg enhanced problem solving significantly, but had no effect on creative thinking. It also didn’t make it worse, so keep drinking your coffee; it won’t interfere with these abilities.”
Get your caffeine fix from coffee, tea, energy drinks and cocoa (either in a drink or in chocolate). Just don’t expect it to get your creative juices flowing.