Why Are Drinkers Smarter?

Why are drinkers smarter?

That’s the conclusion of a study I read about recently.

"A study of more than 6,000 Londoners ranging in age from 40 to 68 found
that drinkers in general performed better than teetotalers on tests
measuring such things as verbal fluency and inductive reasons.

The study indicated drinkers performed better whether they had
one drink a week or 30-plus drinks a week. Even occasional drinkers did
better on the tests than non-drinkers, leading the researchers to
write, "In terms of cognitive function, we found that frequent drinking
may be more beneficial than drinking only on special occasions."

The researchers apparently have no explanation a to why drinkers do better on tests of verbal fluency and inductive reasoning. Does it actually have something to do with the reaction of the chemical compound that is alcohol and the functioning of the brain? Or, should we instead be contemplating the disposition of the teetotaler.

I remember when the first studies started to emerge suggesting that wine in particular made you healthier, or at least less likely to die below the average age. Then, and even now, I suspected it had more to do with the lifestyle of the person likely to have a couple drinks of wine a day than with a magical influence of the properties of the grape and grape skins as many point to now. I still believe this plays an important part in it.

But in this case we are talking about drinkers vs. non drinkers. Again, I think the emphasis might properly be placed on the teetotaler in this study. What do we know about the person who has decided, not because their doctor has told them too, but for ethical reason, not to drink? I could be wrong, but I think we are talking about people who 1) are driven to severe and judgmental action by philosophical or religious inspiration, or 2) fear their own ability to react well to the slightest  change in body chemistry, or 3) have probably been driven to teetotaling by an incident or situation that once scared them.

I could be wrong about these kind of generalizations. But let’s say I’m not.   Let’s entertain the idea that teetotalers tend more than drinkers to be driven in their daily lives by types of fear and admonitions than by what I think drives people to drink: the enjoyment and social factors as well as the appreciation of the buzz.

What marks the drinker as different from the non-drinker is an element of curiosity and optimism that seems absent in the teetotaler.

Is the explanation why teetotalers don’t perform as well on intellectual acuity tests that they are somehow affected by having shut down their natural curiosity and have an outlook on life less disposed to optimism.

Let’s step out of the generalizing limb and consider that I’ve observed that serious wine drinkers, real wine aficionados, do tend to be brighter. These people also tend to be far more curious than your average person and your average drinker, in my experience. And, they tend to be optimistic, looking forward to the next experience, the next vintage the next vinious revelation.

Or, it could be simply the chemical compound that is alcohol reacting with our brain. In that case, let’s make a pill and distribute it.

3 Responses

  1. Derrick Schneider - March 31, 2006

    Well, many of the very smartest people I know in the U.S. — people well into genius-land, world puzzle champions, top-flight puzzle designers, the best programmers — don’t drink at all. I’m usually an anomaly at gatherings of these sorts of folks (though the captain of the U.S. team of the World Puzzle Championship has an impressive Bordeaux/Burgundy/Sauternes collection).
    I’ve never figured out why — I think it has to do with a fear of change to a brain that, in all honesty, is doing very well on its own.
    This seems to be more of an American thing. When I look at the equivalent people in other countries, there’s usually much more acceptance of drinking as a normal social activity.

  2. Deena - April 2, 2006

    What Derrick said rings a bell with me.
    Americans are definitely different when it comes to alcohol, and appreciation of gourmet food, wine, and beverages generally. In other countries an inability to understand and therefore enjoy fine foods and beverages is considered to be a shortcoming – a bit like not knowing anything about literature or art. In the US, appreciating and enjoying fine foods and beverages is considered to be more of a fussy habit than an intellectual accomplishment or evidence of soulful communion with the world.
    Alcohol is constantly viewed as though it is sinful – even by those who are not religious. Rather than drinking being a form of appreciation of art, it’s seen as being an indulgence that’s always bordering on danger.
    This said, I’m proud to be an American, but having European parents gives me a bit of perspective on my nationality.

  3. angel bhattarai - August 28, 2009

    yeah u r right drinkers are smarter .

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