- Researchers say coffee can improve concentration, but it probably doesn’t enhance creativity.
- Experts say previous studies have also come to similar conclusions.
- Experts add that everyone is different, so the appropriate level of daily caffeine can vary from person to person.
Your morning cup of coffee can increase your ability to focus and problem-solve, but it probably has no significant impact on creativity.
That’s the conclusion of a study published this week.
In the research, 80 participants were given either a 200-milligram caffeine pill, which is equivalent to one cup of strong coffee, or a placebo.
The stimulant’s effects on convergent (problem-solving) and divergent (idea-generating) thinking, working memory, and mood were tested.
Caffeine affected convergent thinking but not divergent thinking, the researchers reported.
It didn’t significantly affect working memory, although researchers reported that participants felt less sad.
Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, author of “Skinny Liver,” says she isn’t surprised by the study’s findings.
“Previous studies did not find a link to creativity in the past,” she told Healthline. “Creativity is so very personal, though interesting, I’m not sure what the link would be to have caffeine impact that.”
It was surprising to Andy De Santis, a registered dietitian and weight loss specialist.
“I’ve written and looked into the evidence on caffeine on numerous occasions, and my understanding of the best available science was always that, while caffeine can offer enhanced attention and focus, there is much less convincing evidence it’s going to make you better at making tough decisions or carrying out more complex tasks,” he told Healthline.
“For me, based on what I’ve seen previously, it’s unsurprising that creativity falls into that second category, and that’s not to say this study definitively closes the book on caffeine and creativity either,” De Santis added.
The study was conducted with the equivalent of just one cup of strongly brewed coffee.
Healthline spoke with experts to determine whether a certain amount of caffeine in the diet starts having an inverse impact.
“Yes, absolutely,” says De Santis. “There is something known as the Yerkes-Dodson law, which essentially says that a relationship exists between stimulation and performance.”
The relationship is one of diminishing returns. Here’s how it works.
“So caffeine, obviously, offers stimulation,” De Santis said. “In turn, that stimulation has the potential to enhance an individual’s work or exercise performance, especially if fatigue is causing a performance detriment.”
“But that relationship only works up to a certain critical point, beyond which overstimulation (i.e., too much caffeine) actually detracts from our performance by making it harder to focus,” he explained.
The threshold is different for everyone.
“This one actually depends a lot on genetics,” says Kirkpatrick. “For example, some people are fast metabolizers of caffeine, while others are slow.”
“The determining factor lies in the CYP1A2 gene that has been studied extensively,” she said. “For slow metabolizers, excess caffeine can be deadly.”
“Speaking in more general terms, we all react differently to caffeine, so I would think that this would be no different,” Kirkpatrick explained. “Alertness and increased energy would both be likely impacted by your personal metabolism of caffeine.”
You know your body best, so listen to what it’s saying.
“Most of us know how we react to caffeine,” said Kirkpatrick. “Some of my patients have six-plus cups a day, while others can’t have more than one cup of coffee.”
“If you feel jittery, nervous, can’t sleep at night due to coffee consumption, it might not be the right stimulant for you,” she added.
However, if you tolerate caffeine and use it as a performance enhancement, De Santis says it’s probably OK to drink a larger amount of coffee.
“There is no evidence to suggest caffeine inhibits creativity, so I’m not sure we need to make too much of it,” he said.