ResearchEnglishCreative Mood

Creative Feelings: The Effect of Mood on Creative Ideation and Evaluation

Authors: Paul T. Sowden and Leah Dawson


Research has found mixed effects of mood on creative problem solving. Here we examined the effects of mood on two components of creative problem solving; ideation and evaluation. After induction of positive, negative or neutral mood participants completed ideation and evaluation tasks. Results showed that a positive mood facilitates ideation whereas a negative mood facilitated evaluation. Persons in a negative mood set their criterion for usefulness of ideas higher than did those in a positive mood. This would lead to continued search for optimal solutions and improve performance on creative problem solving tasks in which the quality, rather than quantity, of solutions is important.


Creativeness is often defined in the literature in terms of novelty and appropriateness. That is, creative outcomes must be both original and useful [12]. In affect and creativity research, many researchers have found results supporting the “positive-mood-promotes-creativity” view [e.g. 9,11]. However, there are many other findings that cast doubt on this view [2,5]. Considering the type of task used in creativity experiments may help clarify some of the discrepancies found in the mood-creativity literature.

One possibility, arising from cognitive tuning theory [6], is that a participant’s mood signals to them the current situation. A positive mood indicates that the situation is safe and may encourage a relaxed and playful approach to situations, using simplifying heuristics, exploring novel possibilities, and elaborating on unusual, creative associations.

In contrast, a negative mood informs the individual that the current situation is problematic and that negative outcomes are possible, which may encourage them to avoid such risky approaches, favouring instead a more exacting, detail oriented, processing style. This theory therefore predicts that the relaxed processing style of participants in a positive mood may favour performance on tasks requiring pure generation of ideas, such as divergent thinking tasks [cf. 3,7].

Conversely, the detail oriented processing associated with negative mood may lead to better performance when evaluating the usefulness of creative ideas is required. In agreement with this, positive moods worsen performance on insight problems, which require evaluation of whether a solution actually solves the problem, whereas negative moods enhance performance [10]. Here the effects of positive and negative mood on ideation and evaluation are explored. By explicitly testing the effect of mood on evaluation we extend previous work that has only been able to speculate post-hoc about an effect of negative mood on evaluation.


The current study has confirmed previous studies in which a positive mood improves performance on ideational tasks [e.g. 9,11] and, compared to a negative mood, worsens performance on tasks that require an evaluative component [e.g. 10]. Furthermore, the results extend previous research concerning the effect of negative mood on creative problem solving.

Previous work has found that a negative mood is beneficial for success on insight problem tasks. The present findings suggest that a negative mood encourages evaluations of reduced usefulness. This is likely to encourage continued search for an optimal solution resulting in more useful solutions and more accurate evaluation of their usefulness. This may therefore improve performance on problem solving tasks in which the quality, rather than quantity, of solutions is important From a practical viewpoint, these findings have implications for settings in which creativity and innovation are important.

For example, changing mood state at different stages of the design process might enhance product design. Positive mood might support initial idea generation whilst switching to a negative mood state might enhance the evaluation of those ideas. Modern technologies provide many opportunities for inducing such mood switching and might be used to help realise the potential benefits of varying mood state on creativity.


Creative Feelings: The Effect of Mood on Creative Ideation and Evaluation
Paul T. Sowden and Leah Dawson
School of Psychology, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey, GU2 7XH, UK,
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