How Vodka Cranberries Helps Mad Men think Creatively

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 18:  The cast and ...

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 18: The cast and crew of 'Mad Men' including Elisabeth Moss, Jon Hamm, Matthew Weiner and Christina Hendricks pose in the press room after 'Mad Men' wins Outstanding Drama Series during the 63rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE on September 18, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

With the premiere of season 5 of Mad Men just around the corner, I found Time magazine’s, How Getting Tipsy May Inspire Creativity fascinating. I’ve been in the advertising industry for nearly two decades and have become desensitized to drinking. Though Mad Men has been criticized for “promoting a glamourized and unrealistic image of functional alcoholism,a study by the University of Illinois at Chicago found drinking moderate amounts of alcohol helped with creative problem solving. Perhaps that explains the acceptance of drinking as a way of life in the ad industry.

On the topic of Mad Men, alcohol, creativity and advertising…a few days ago I went to dinner with some friends. In catching up, one of my friends asked if I was still enjoying Mad Men. When I shared how Mad Men wasn’t relaxing because it was too much like work (umm, maybe not in all the ways you might be thinking!), my friends were surprised. What they were most surprised by was the alcohol. When I shared how I’ve known people who have kept alcohol in their desks, displayed alcohol on their bookshelves, and lugged in mini fridges to keep their beer (and vodka) cold, there was disbelief. I guess this type of thing isn’t normal in other industries.

There was some joking about how alcohol helps creativity, but I was cautious not to draw conclusions without having tangible data. Turns out our dinnertime musings about the link between alcohol and creativity are now backed by fact (well, at least one study).

In the study, 40 participants (not 80 as the Time magazine article suggests) were recruited. Half were given vodka with cranberry juice and the other half were not given any alcohol. Then, participants took the Remote Associates Test (RAT) which assesses a person’s ability to find relationships among things that are remotely associated. For example, what word is associated with these three words?

stool, powder, ball

The answer is “foot” as in footstool, foot powder, football.

The results of the RAT showed participants who drank a moderate amount of alcohol performed better on the test than those who did not consume alcohol. Researchers cited alcohol’s ability to lessen inhibition and slow down the brain’s executive functioning as the reason for being able to come up with different associations.

Though the findings are interesting, caution should be taken when interpreting the results (forgive my skepticism, I’ve been trained to question validity and reliability). The above mentioned research study was conducted with just 40 people (would the results be the same with 40,000 people?), all 40 were male (would the results be the same with women?), and the tests were not repeated (was this a one time thing?). So, although there seems to be a link between alcohol consumption and creativity, the findings are preliminary.

So, I guess we do not yet know whether advertising folks just happen to be attracted to alcohol or if the ad business makes people drink.  A classic chicken and the egg situation.


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