Sleepy or Drunk? You're Ready to Problem Solve!

Grogginess is a virtue when it comes to finding creative solutions to tricky problems. Lack of concentration frees your mind to create new associations that may yield an important new insight.

What's the Latest Development?

In a scientific study, college students were asked to solve a brain teaser early in the morning and late at night to measure problem solving abilities relative to alertness levels. Prior to answering the riddle, most students self-identified as night owls, implying they would be better equipped to answer the question in the evening when they were more alert. "A man has married 20 women in a small town. All of the women are still alive and none of them are divorced. The man has broken no laws. Who is the man?" Answer: a priest. 

What's the Big Idea?

To the researchers' surprise, more students solved the riddle when they were still half asleep at 9 AM than in the evening session. Similar results have been found with alcohol, i.e. that intoxicated people can solve creative problems better than sober ones. The moral of the story is that concentration does not come without its down side. While an alert and sober person may solve an algebra equation faster, their singular focus keeps them from considering information not directly relevant to a problem, missing out on creative solutions.

Photo credit:

Car culture and suburban sprawl create rifts in society, claims study

New research links urban planning and political polarization.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Canadian researchers find that excessive reliance on cars changes political views.
  • Decades of car-centric urban planning normalized unsustainable lifestyles.
  • People who prefer personal comfort elect politicians who represent such views.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists reverse hair loss by making scalp "smell" sandalwood

It turns out the human scalp has an olfactory receptor that seems to play a crucial role in regulating hair follicle growth and death.

Photo: malehmann via Flickr
Surprising Science
  • Scientists treated scalp tissue with a chemical that mimics the odor of sandalwood.
  • This chemical bound to an olfactory receptor in the scalp and stimulated hair growth.
  • The treatment could soon be available to the public.
Keep reading Show less

NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller on ​the multiple dimensions of space and human sexuality

Science and the squishiness of the human mind. The joys of wearing whatever the hell you want, and so much more.

Flickr / 13winds
Think Again Podcasts
  • Why can't we have a human-sized cat tree?
  • What would happen if you got a spoonful of a neutron star?
  • Why do we insist on dividing our wonderfully complex selves into boring little boxes
Keep reading Show less