Drinking coffee makes you a better problem solver - here's the science explained

Wednesday, 11th March 2020, 6:07 pm
Updated Wednesday, 11th March 2020, 6:08 pm

Coffee increases your problem solving ability and your focus, according to a new study.

However, while caffeine increases alertness, improves vigilance and motor performance, the research found that it doesn’t stimulate creativity.

Convergent and divergent thinking

The study differentiated between “convergent” and “divergent” thinking. Convergent thinking is defined as seeking a specific solution to a problem. Divergent thinking is characterised by idea generation where a large set of apt, novel or interesting responses would be suitable.

For the study, 80 volunteers were randomly given either a 200 mg caffeine pill (equivalent to one strong cup of coffee), or a placebo. They were then tested on standard measures of convergent and divergent thinking, working memory and mood.

Caffeine had no impact on creativity

Caffeine was shown to improve convergent thinking in the study, while consuming it had no significant impact on divergent thinking (creativity).

In addition to the results on creativity, caffeine did not significantly affect working memory, but test subjects who took it did report feeling less sad.

“In Western cultures, caffeine is stereotypically associated with creative occupations and lifestyles, from writers and their coffee to programmers and their energy drinks, and there’s more than a kernel of truth to these stereotypes,” said Darya Zabelina, study author and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arkansas.

“The 200mg enhanced problem solving significantly, but had no effect on creative thinking,” said Zabelina. “It also didn’t make it worse, so keep drinking your coffee; it won’t interfere with these abilities.”

The study has been published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.