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The Link Between Emotions and Creativity

By: Sai Srihaas Potu

The interaction of emotions with creative cognition is one of the most intriguing topics in creativity research. Recent studies have investigated the extent to which various emotions influence the evaluation of ideas, which is a crucial component of the creative thinking process. Creativity is a complex, multi-faceted concept encompassing a variety of related aspects, abilities, properties, and behaviors. If we wish to study creativity scientifically, then a tractable and well-articulated model of creativity is required. Such a model would be of great value to researchers investigating the nature of creativity and in particular, those concerned with the evaluation of creative practice.

Several researchers have investigated the emotion-creativity relationship by using a broad range of induction procedures to engage participants in the intended affective states, using various measures of creativity. The results from some of these studies reveal that positive affective states, as compared to neutral conditions, enhance performance in divergent thinking, categorization, remote associates test, and insight problem-solving tasks, as individuals tend to make richer associations between knowledge frames when in a positive affective state than when in a neutral state. On the other hand, some contradictory results exist regarding the role that negative emotional states play in creative thinking. Some researchers have found no difference between the negative and neutral conditions, and others have found negative affective states to have only a slightly detrimental influence on creativity, as compared to the neutral states. Some researchers have found that negative states can lead to stronger creative performance, as well.

Attentional focus does indeed have important effects on creative thinking: a broad scope of attention is associated with the free-floating colliding of ideas, and a narrow scope of attention is more conducive to linear, step-by-step goal attainment. However, emerging research suggests that the positive vs. negative emotions distinction may not be the most important contrast for understanding creativity patterns.

For creativity, scientists hypothesize that these three brain networks operate as a team: the default mode network generates ideas, the executive control network evaluates them, and the salience network helps to identify which ideas get passed along to the executive control network. On top of this basic scheme, these networks can also influence one another via other feedback loops. For instance, the executive control network might tune the way the salience network scans internally, depending on the task at hand, in response to the environment. These brain networks form a somewhat flexible and responsive system, a complex adaptive system. Creativity is imperative to the progression of human civilization, prosperity, and well‐being. Past creative researches tend to emphasize the default mode network or the front parietal network somewhat exclusively. However, little is known about how these networks interact to contribute to creativity and whether common or distinct brain networks are responsible for visual and verbal creativity.

A major research paper studied the links between creativity and emotions. The paper examined the results of 66 different studies about how people’s emotions affect their creativity. It looked at different aspects of the creative thought process like flexibility, originality, and insight moments. The researchers concluded that how a person is feeling does affect their creativity. But, what was interesting is that they found that it’s not just whether people’s emotions are positive or negative that’s important. The specific type of emotions is important too.

In an evolutionary sense, negative emotions like fear are designed to make us focus narrowly on a threat. Positive emotions like feeling happy or upbeat are designed to make us want to explore, try new things, learn new information, and build relationships with other people. Positive emotions signal to us that the current environment is safe enough that we can do things to prepare for the future. When people are experiencing positive emotions, they tend to look at the whole picture rather than details.

Taken together, the latest research on the role of emotions in creativity suggests that instead of focusing exclusively on bringing out positive emotions or attempting to dispel negative emotions scientists may want to consider additional factors, such as whether the environment brings out emotional ambivalence and motivational intensity when trying to stimulate creativity. It’s time to move beyond such simplistic black-and-white notions of the role of emotions in innovation, and instead, embrace the inherent messiness of the creative process. These findings provide the first evidence that emotions impact people’s evaluations of the creativity of exogenous alternative ideas that are generated through divergent thinking.


1. Beaty RE, Benedek M, Silvia PJ, Schacter DL. Creative cognition and brain network dynamics. Trends in Cognitive Science. 2016.

2. Beghetto R. A., & Kaufman J. C. Toward a broader conception of creativity: A case for" mini-c" creativity. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. 2007.

3. Corazza G. E. Potential originality and effectiveness: The dynamic definition of creativity. Creativity Research Journal. 2016.

4. Lazarus R. S. Thoughts on the relations between emotion and cognition. American Psychologist. 1982.


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