Have you ever wondered why so many movie stars, musicians, singers, and other creative artists smoke cigarette or vape? New research shows that the nicotine in tobacco cigarettes and now vaping devices may boost the production of alpha waves in the brain which often leads to enhanced creativity. Scientists also believe that the increased alpha waves somehow suppress certain irrelevant brain activities like daydreaming or “zoning out,” which in turn helps the user to avoid distractions and focus better on the creative task at hand.
Unfortunately, obtaining the creativity benefits of nicotine through conventional cigarettes involves the burning of tobacco leaves which emits a tar-filled smoke that is extremely carcinogenic. Vaping, on the other hand, does not. Furthermore, the e-liquids in electronic cigarettes are free of all those other added chemicals intentionally placed inside tobacco cigarettes to keep the smoker hooked. Many of these needless chemicals are also highly toxic.
Two scientists from the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior at the Radboud University in Nijmegen conducted a study based on the hypothesis that the natural stimulatory effects of nicotine facilitate one’s ability to anticipate distracting information and then ignore it more quickly. These capabilities are largely attributed to alpha brain wave production.
Overview of the Donder nicotine study
Researchers Mathilde Bonnefond and Ole Jensen began by soliciting the assistance of eighteen smokers to participate in an experiment. Each was shown a series of letters flashing on a screen very quickly, and they were asked to memorize them. Meanwhile, the scientists recorded their alpha brain wave activities through the use of non-invasive magneto-encephalography (MEG) technology.
Next, Bonnefond and Jensen would flash a “distractor” on-screen. There were two kinds of distractors. The first was deemed a “strong distractor” and came in the form of another letter flashing on-screen. The second was deemed a “weak distractor” and appeared as a symbol of some kind flashing on-screen. As these images flashed before the participants’ eyes, they were instructed to ignore them.
As the experiment progressed, the smokers were shown the four letters to memorize immediately followed by one of the two distractors before flashing a fifth letter on-screen. Each flash of a new letter or distractor occurred about one second apart. The participants were rated on their speed and accuracy capabilities in determining if the fifth letter was a member of the original four-letter group that they were asked to initially memorize. Meanwhile, the same series of tests were conducted with a control group of non-smokers.
Results of the Donder nicotine study
Bonnefond and Jensen discovered that the smokers had a greater ability to block out the “distractors” and achieve higher scores in speed and accuracy compared to the non-smoking group. The researchers then compared these higher test scores to the measurable changes in alpha brain wave production via the MEG technology. They discovered a decided correlation between higher test scores, increased alpha brain wave production, and nicotine consumption.
Scientists believe that this increased alpha brain wave production enhances one’s ability to “get into the zone” and stay focused, which is very helpful to creative artists. For example, an actor or actress who is trying to transform themselves into an entirely different character than themselves needs the unique ability to block out all outside distraction if they want to stay “in-character.”
This is not the first nicotine study related to alpha brain wave activity that Bonnefond and Ole Jensen have conducted. The most recent study entitled Alpha waves close your mind for distraction, but not continuously, research suggests is published on Science News. A second research project entitled Alpha Oscillations Serve to Protect Working Memory Maintenance against Anticipated Distracters is available in the online journal Current Biology.