Happy people are more likely to choose creative activities

July 1, 2008

Positively creative: Happy moods encourage creativity. New research at Indiana University finds that people who are happy choose creative activities strategically in the interest of maintaining or improving their mood. Their unhappy counterparts want to improve their moods, too, but they have a bigger selection of activities — not all creative — from which to choose. “There are broader arrays of tasks that can accomplish that goal for us than there are tasks that can sustain or enhance an already positive mood,” said Edward Hirt, associate professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at IU Bloomington. “One thing we discovered in our research is that people are aware of the fact that being creative makes them feel good, and so tasks that afford potential for creativity are particularly appealing when in a positive mood.”

Hirt and his colleagues recently published findings from three studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:

  • Happy people are more likely to choose tasks that allow for creativity. In this study, 92 participants were asked to rate a list of various tasks on several levels, such as the pleasantness of the task, how interesting the task was and how much the task allowed for creativity. Then, participants were randomly assigned to view one of three film clips that induce happy, sad or neutral feelings. Finally, researchers presented participants with the list of tasks again. Participants rated these tasks in terms of how likely or unlikely they were to do the specified activity. Researchers found that participants who were in happy moods were more likely to choose tasks they had previously rated as creative.
  • Happy people are more likely to use creative means to transform unpleasant tasks into more enjoyable experiences. In this second study, researchers wanted to explore whether happy people were able to perform creatively when presented with a not-so-pleasant task. In this case, they were asked to produce a list of causes of death. Participants in a happy mood provided more sensationalistic and cartoon-like answers such as “spontaneous combustion,” “Chinese water torture,” or “ritual sacrifice.” Participants in the negative or neutral mood group listed strictly realistic, text-book like ways of dying, such as cancer or a stroke.
  • Happy people who believed their mood was not susceptible to change were less likely to engage in creative activities than happy people who believed their mood could change. In the third study, researchers wanted to provide evidence that people in happy moods participated in creative tasks strategically in order to maintain or improve their pleasant moods. Participants were assigned to one of two groups. Individuals assigned to the mood-freezing group believed their mood was not susceptible to change. Individuals in the nonmood-freezing condition believed their mood could change. The mood manipulation was accomplished via the alleged effects of an aromatherapy candle. Participants in the mood-freezing group were told that the candle had a mood-freezing side effect — their mood would stay the same for a fixed period of time. These participants, believing they could not improve their happy mood, were less likely to choose creative tasks than those in the nonmood-freezing group, providing evidence that happy people choose creative tasks in the hopes of influencing their mood.

Co-authors of this study are Erin Devers from IU and Sean McCrea from the University of Konstanz. A copy of the study is available here: http://www.indiana.edu/~iunews/Hirt.pdf

Source: Indiana University

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