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Mar 17, 2019

How does alcohol affect cognition?

St. Patrick’s Day is ranked 3rd among the most popular drinking days, behind New Year's Eve and Christmas. One and a half times more beer is sold than usual and tens of millions of pints of Guinness are consumed. But what about drinking habits the rest of the year? If someone typically enjoys a few beers a week, could that relate to their cognitive performance?

Daily alcohol intake vs. Lumosity game performance

We were interested in whether Lumosity players’ cognitive performance correlated with their lifestyle, including alcohol consumption. In order to answer this, we designed a survey of health and lifestyle habits that has now been taken by millions of people around the world. We asked how many alcoholic drinks per day people had on average and compared this data with their scores across three games: Speed Match, Memory Matrix, and Raindrops. Why did we choose these games? Besides being some of the most popular training tasks, they also require distinct cognitive abilities: information processing, spatial recall, and numerical calculation. We learned that the highest performers on all three games reported drinking 1 or 2 drinks per day. This group even outperformed the teetotalers, which was an unexpected finding. However, more than two drinks correlated with lower performance, which is less surprising. Our large data set of Lumosity performance and survey results revealed a new and interesting relationship between lifestyle and cognitive performance. Cheers to science!

Surprised by these results?

Remember that correlation is not causation. Although we saw the top scores from people who had 1 or 2 drinks per day, it’s quite possible that those drinks weren’t boosting their performance. In this case, the advantage might have another explanation. For example, those who have 1 or 2 drinks a day might also be more socially engaged than those reporting little or no alcohol consumption, and several studies suggest that social engagement is good for the brain. These results provide a rough profile of the higher performers, and spur additional questions about ways that health and lifestyle impact the mind. Try Lumosity for yourself and tell us here if you see any correlation between your mental performance and changes you make to lifestyle habits like sleep, alcohol, stress levels, or exercise.

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