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Have a problem to solve? Drink more coffee, according to scientists

New study says caffeine helps us problem-solve better

By Angela Garrity, Guest blogger

Got problems? The caffeine found in coffee can help you solve for “x,” according to a new study.

However, this study also concluded that caffeine does not lend a hand in boosting creativity, to which we disagree. According to CNBC, these two thinking tasks require the brain to work in completely different ways — known as convergent and divergent thinking.

A stack of math textbooks next to a coffee mug with mathematical equations
Photo: @introverted.life.and.travel on Instagram

“Convergent thinking,” is the ability to come up with one correct solution and relates to problem-solving. It requires several cognitive processes, including executive control and focused attention. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, which makes you feel more focused, energized, alert and awake, according to MedlinePlus

“Divergent thinking” entails thinking of a wide range of responses that are novel or interesting and is related to brainstorming. It requires “spontaneous thought,” lower attention levels and reduced cognitive control. That’s why other studies suggest that boredom triggers creativity

[Related: The smell of coffee alone can help improve test scores]

The study compared convergent and divergent thinking and measured caffeine's ability to help or hinder each. It found that caffeine was shown to improve convergent thinking, but had no impact on divergent thinking.

Researchers gave 88 participants a 200 mg caffeine pill (about one strong cup of coffee) or a placebo. They then had to answer 72 problem-solving questions and three open-ended prompts. 

The authors of the study noted that it’s possible that 200 mg is not enough caffeine to impact people’s ability to generate ideas. Most people can safely consume 400 mg of caffeine a day, equivalent to about two strong cups of coffee. 

Caffeine also has other perks: it’s been shown to boost your mood, which could be useful if you’re heading into a brainstorming session or working on a creative project.

We can easily solve for “x” — the solution is Drink. More. Coffee.

Related: How does drinking coffee affect student test performance?

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