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Vaping nicotine may boost alpha brain waves for creativity, say scientists

Ever wonder why so many famous actors, actresses, musicians, photographers, writers, and other creative types are so often photographed with a lit cigarette hanging out of their mouths.  If the research is true, then nicotine might be boosting their creativity levels while suppressing irrelevant brain activity and distractions, according to scientific research. 

The trouble is that smoking also causes cancer, emphysema, and a multitude of other deadly diseases. Vaping, on the other hand, is free of all those nasty toxins, tars, and chemicals of tobacco cigarettes that cause all the problems.  Researchers Mathilde Bonnefond and Ole Jensen from the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour at the Radboud University in Nijmegen discovered that nicotine consumption may increase alpha brain wave production which allows for faster anticipation of distracting information.  It  might be secretly helping an aspiring artist or creative thinker to “get in the zone” and “block out” all distractions until their masterpiece is complete.

Alpha brain waves and creativity

The scientists began by selecting a group of eighteen smoking volunteers to participate in an experiment in which the suppression of distracting information was crucial to performance.  The participants’ brain wave activity was measured throughout the course of the experiment using a non-invasive, brain-wave recording technique called magneto-encephalography (MEG). 

    • The participants were first asked to memorize a series of four letters flashing on-screen in a matter of seconds while the scientists recorded their alpha brain wave activity.
    • Next, a “distractor” would flash on-screen.
    • A “strong distractor” identified as another letter was one option.
    • A “weak distractor” of a symbol was another option.
    • Meanwhile, the participants were instructed to ignore the distractor entirely.
    • The final step involved the flashing of another letter on-screen precisely one-second after the “distractor” appeared.
    • The volunteers were asked to determine whether the fifth letter was similar to the original four letters that they were required to remember earlier.
    • All results were compared to a control group of non-smoking volunteers.

What the scientists discovered is that the smoking group exhibited higher levels of alpha brain wave activity than the non-smoking group.  Their scores were higher, and their abilities to block out the distractors were more successful.  Furthermore, alpha brain wave activity spiked higher when a strong distractor was flashed on-screen as compared to the weak distractor. 


Scientists have long hypothesized that higher levels of alpha brain wave activity are linked to enhanced creativity, daydreaming, and that mental state of “flow” that artists so often achieve when they seemingly “zone out” or “get in the zone” of artistic expression where nothing else matters.

They might forget to eat, drink, sleep, or even call their spouse for long periods because time seemingly stands still.  They are “in the zone” and cannot be stopped, regardless of outside distractions.  According to scientists, nicotine may be playing a vital role.

The Bonnefond-Jensen research is so detailed that it was published in multiple papers over a period of several years.  The above information is just a brief smattering of their impressive research.  For more information, consult the study entitled Alpha waves close your mind for distraction, but not continuously, research suggests published on Science News.  A second study entitled Alpha Oscillations Serve to Protect Working Memory Maintenance against Anticipated Distracters is available on the website Current Biology.  A third supportive study from another scientific team entitled Tobacco smoking produces widespread dominant brain wave alpha frequency increases is published on the US National Library of Medicine


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