The study, published in Psychological Research, investigated whether tyrosine – which has been suggested to stimulate the production of dopamine - has a positive effect on creative thinking by testing whether intake of an orange juice containing either tyrosine or placebo had any effect on the two main ingredients of creativity: divergent and convergent styles of thinking.
Led by Lorenza Colzato and her fellow researchers at Leiden University, the team noted that Anecdotal evidence suggests that creative people sometimes use food to overcome mental blocks and to get deeper into a problem. Indeed, Steve Jobs, arguably one of the most creative minds of our time, often referred to his fruit diet, high in the amino acid tyrosine, as the foundation of his success, they said.
Tests by Colzato and her team confirmed this anecdotal evidence, by showing that candidates performed better on convergent thinking if they had drunk the juice with tyrosine compared to the placebo.
“Tyrosine food supplements and tyrosine-rich food are a healthy and inexpensive way of improving our ability to think more deeply,” said Colzato.
Colzato and her fellow researchers investigated effects of an orange juice to which either 2 grams of L-tyrosine (TYR) or placebo were added, on the two main ingredients of creativity: divergent and convergent styles of thinking.
The team explained that divergent thinking allows many new ideas to be generated - it is measured using the Alternate Uses Task (AUT) method where participants are required to think up as many uses as possible for a particular object, such as a pen.
Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is a process whereby one possible solution for a particular problem is generated. This is measured using the Remote Associates Task (RAT), where three unrelated words are presented to the participants, words such as 'time', 'hair' and 'stretch'. The candidates are then asked to identify the common link: in this case, 'long', they said.
The team analysed data from 32 participants, finding that participants performed better in convergent thinking in the tyrosine condition than in the placebo condition.
“As there are reasons to assume that convergent thinking is more control-hungry than divergent thinking is, we expected performance in the convergent-thinking task to be more affected,” noted Colzato and her colleagues. “Consistent with this expectation, TYR supplementation had an impact on RAT performance while we found no evidence for any impact of TYR on the AUT, which is the first demonstration that performance in tasks tapping human creativity can be enhanced by dopamine-related food supplements.”
“The food we eat may thus act as a cognitive enhancer that modulates the way we deal with the physical world, but at least with how deeply we can think. In particular, the supplementation of TYR, or TYR-containing diets, may promote convergent thinking in inexpensive, efficient, and healthy ways, thus supporting the creative process that Steve Jobs was such a superior exponent of,” the team concluded.
Source: Psychological Research
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1007/s00426-014-0610-4
“Food for creativity: tyrosine promotes deep thinking”
Authors: Lorenza S. Colzato, Annelies M. de Haan, Bernhard Hommel