Why Are We Better At Life’s Simple Pleasures When We’re Half-Cut?
Allow me to paint you a picture. It's a cold Friday evening in December and, as is usually the case on cold Friday evenings in December, I'm off to the pub to drink the amount of beer that would make my mum have a stern word with me if she was here. But she's not.
The warm air hits me as I stroll through the door, and my pals and I head to the bar to get the pints in.
As I put the glass to my lips, one mate turns to me, "game of pool"?
"Yeah, why not", I reply, acutely aware that the pool table is surrounded by the sort of blokes who look like they've earned a living by doing 'winner stays on' with strangers of lesser pool-playing ability and putting a fiver on every game.
My mate chalks up his cue (clearly it's not his first time), blows away the excess dust and proceeds to break, smashing five matching balls into separate pockets. This earns him a few raised eyebrows from the men nearby.
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It's my shot now. I take a swig of my Stella and spend a solid 20 seconds lining my shot up like a pro, only to knock someone's pint over as I draw my cue back and fire the white ball directly into the bottom left bag. Couldn't do it again if I tried. Needless to say, my mate clears up and I slump into a seat to neck the rest of my beer, defeated.
"Same again?" One of my pals chirps from across the table.
"Aye, go on then."
Another pint later and another game of pool is suggested. Except, this time something's different. I can feel the beery confidence rising up inside me like a fire. I'm channelling Ronnie O'Sullivan. Actually, fuck that, I AM RONNIE O'SULLIVAN!
I'm dancing round like Prince Naseem, knocking balls into pockets like it's my birthday. It's a thing of true beauty. The game must've only lasted three minutes.
Caption: Prince Naseem hasn't got a thing on me after a Stella; Credit: PA
But it's not just the pool. Oh no. Darts - bang, bang, bang - triple 20, bullseye, triple 20 (possibly a slight exaggeration). Game of Pints Make Prizes - I'm dishing out general knowledge like Stephen Fry on fire. I swear even my texts are better constructed than usual. I've just received a "what u sayin tonite mate?" and, honestly, my reply makes Shakespeare look like the person who writes the horoscopes your local paper.
Back to reality.
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It's as if almost every lad I speak to tells me that he reaches peak performance on just about every imaginable task after the magic number of two/three pints. Of course, this isn't to encourage binge drinking and you should always know your limits. Obviously there's some sort of science lurking behind this. I flicked through some books, scoured the internet and even tracked down a professor of toxicology to find out why we all appear to be better at everything when we're half-cut.
In terms of sport, it's not just pool and darts that beer makes us better at. If after the magic number of pints, you found yourself trying archery, a spot of bowling or pretty much any other turn-based sport requiring accuracy, you'd find you were infinitely better than usual. In fact, the World Anti-Doping Agency actually bans alcohol in five sports: auto racing, powerboat racing, air sports, motorcycle racing and archery. The reason why booze is banned in four out of five of those sports should be pretty self-explanatory, but archery? Well, believe it or not the reason alcohol consumption is banned in that particular sport is because it acts as a performance enhancer, the same way it does with pool, darts and all the rest of it.
In 1985 an exercise physiologist called Thomas Reilly found that archers and darts players performed at their best with a small amount of alcohol in their system. He found similar results with pretty much any sport that involved hitting a target.
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But why? Well, alcohol relaxes muscles and reduces tremors. In a sport like archery, the slightest twitch when aiming could cause the arrow to miss its target. Alcohol gets rid of these twitches and allows sportsmen to achieve a looser grip and a better overall aim. Because all these sorts of activities are turn based, the alcohol-induced slow reaction times aren't an issue.
A professional Canadian snooker player named Bill Werbeniuk rarely played a game without first consuming six pints of beer. That might seem a bit excessive but they didn't call him Big Bill because he was a skinny little chap who got pissed off a half of John Smith's.
So that's the pool and darts explained but what about the mad conversational skills and increased creativity? I spoke to Dr. Rob Chilcott, a professor of toxicology at the University of Hertfordshire, to find out.
"The simple answer is that alcohol enhances the inhibitory circuits of the brain," he told me. "It does this by affecting the sensitivity of a particular nerve cell receptor... Consequently, this may manifest in a variety of ways, such as being more sociable, relaxed and creative, by removing social or mental inhibitions."
In terms of increased creativity, the University of Illinois conducted a study in 2012, which found that the perfect alcohol level for creativity is around the same as the legal driving limit.
The study gave participants three words and asked them to think of three more words, which could be connected to each one. One group of participants was a little bit pissed while the other was stone-cold sober. Not only did the slightly pissed group come up with more words but they also worked much faster. Other similar studies have found that creatives such as musicians are rated as playing to a higher standard by critics when slightly intoxicated as opposed to when sober.
But it's not all good news. Dr. Chilcott continued: "The amount of alcohol required to achieve this subtle effect is not very far off the amount required to impair performance... On top of that, each individual has a different capacity... Thus, the amount of alcohol which may provide temporary benefit to one person may either have no effect or be a complete disaster for someone else."
So, there you have it. Provided that you stick to your limits, a bit of beer actually can make you pretty good at stuff. Science even said so.
Words By Paddy Maddison
Featured Image Credit: Creative Commons
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