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Coffee Talk: Does Coffee Cause Creativity and Addiction?

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Which comes first: coffee or creativity?

Can creativity be caffeine-induced? And what about addiction? Here is one man’s story about his self-claimed addiction to coffee that he recognized once he decided to give up coffee while researching and writing about how coffee has changed the world.

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A recent article in the Harvard Gazette talks about a new book on coffee and its role in history. It is authored by Michael Pollan, a writer who has written much while under influence of coffee and is a noted Lewis K. Chan Arts Lecturer and Professor of the Practice of Non-Fiction. Mr. Pollan is described in the article as a man whose writing career has focused on how the things we consume affect our lives, our health, and our planet—psychedelics for one.

The title of the book is “Caffeine: How Coffee and Tea Created the Modern World,” and is currently available as an audiobook from Amazon as an audible original for only $8.95.

While I look forward to listening to his book, reading the Harvard Gazette piece reminded me that—for all the intrinsic pleasure coffee gives us—there is too often repeated hyperbole that credits and associates drinking coffee with creativity and addiction

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With respect to creativity, according to a study published last March in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, the first author ( Darya Zabelina, an assistant professor of psychology) of the study states that:

“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.”

However, the author goes on to explain that while the cognitive benefits of caffeine such as increased alertness, improved vigilance, enhanced focus and improved motor performance are well-established, she points to her own research that does not support the commonly-held notion that coffee also stimulates creativity directly.

According to a University of Arkansas news story about the study:

In the paper, Dr. Zabelina differentiates “convergent” from “divergent” thinking. The former is defined as seeking a specific solution to a problem, for example, the “correct” answer. The latter is characterized by idea generation where a large set of apt, novel or interesting responses would be suitable. Caffeine was shown to improve convergent thinking in the study, while consuming it had no significant impact on divergent thinking.

In other words, mental tasks requiring focus are aided by the effects of caffeine. However, when it comes to going beyond mental grinding to achieving a eureka moment or at least a novel solution to a problem, caffeine appears to not be responsible for enlightenment.

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And finally, when it comes to defining caffeine addiction among coffee drinkers, I suspect that it is a misappropriated categorization. Yes, I know that there are definite physiological and mental repercussions experienced by those who give up coffee…but they are temporary. And, I question whether anyone who has admittedly been addicted to coffee and “got off the habit” is a fair comparison to those who suffer all their lives from serious additions such as narcotics and alcohol. In other words, is caffeine categorized as a drug just a form of scientific hyperbole that adds to the story and mythology of coffee?

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In any case, “Caffeine: How Coffee and Tea Created the Modern World” should be a good listen for all coffee drinkers and fodder for some additional coffee talk.

Coffee Talk

Coffee Talk is meant to encourage discourse between you and someone you are having coffee with, as well as for the comments section below. If you agree or disagree with the topic and what is said, or have something you would like to share, Coffee Talk is there for you.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between coffee and healthy living. For continual updates about the benefits of coffee on your health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Courtesy of photo by Pereanu Sebastian on Unsplash

References:

Caffeine Boosts Problem-Solving Ability but Not Creativity, Study Indicates” University of Arkansas News, 05 March 2020.

Percolating ideas: The effects of caffeine on creative thinking and problem solving” Darya Zabelina et al, Consciousness and Cognition Volume 79, March 2020.

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