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Creative Mood swings: Divergent and Convergent Thinking Affect Mood in Opposite Ways

Authors: Soghra Akbari Chermahini, Bernhard Hommel


Increasing evidence suggests that emotions affect cognitive processes. Recent approaches have also considered the opposite: that cognitive processes might affect people’s mood. Here we show that performing and, to a lesser degree, preparing for a creative thinking task induce systematic mood swings: Divergent thinking led to a more positive mood, whereas convergent thinking had the opposite effect. This pattern suggests that thought processes and mood are systematically related but the type of relationship is process-specific.


In contrast to the commonsense concept of affect and reason as antagonistic factors that compete for the control of our thoughts and actions, recent research has revealed evidence for numerous types of fruitful cooperation between affective and cognitive processes. For instance, positive mood and affect have been shown to facilitate associative (Bar, 2009) and semantic priming (Hanze & Hesse, 1993), to enhance the recall of happy memories (Teasdale & Fogarty, 1979), and to support the processing of global perceptual information (Gasper & Clore, 2002); whereas negative mood and affect have been found to narrow the focus of attention (Rowe, Hirsh, & Anderson, 2007), facilitating analytical processing, causal reasoning, and reliance on systematic processing (Pham, 2007), and to support forgetting (MacLeod, 2002; Bäuml & Kuhbandner, 2009). A particularly close relationship seems to exist between mood and creative thinking. Various authors have assumed that positive mood enhances creativity (e.g., Isen, 1999; Hirt, Melton, McDonald, & Harackiewicz, 1996), and numerous findings are consistent with this idea (for reviews, see Baas, De Dreu, & Nijstad, 2008; Davis, 2009). At the same time, however, the type and nature of this interaction are not well understood and mediating factors like type of task (Davis, 2009), motivational set (Baas et al., 2008), and individual differences (Akbari Chermahini & Hommel, 2011) can play decisive roles. Nevertheless, it seems clear that some sort of link exists between positive and negative mood on the one hand and creative thought processes on the other.


The results are clear-cut. Most importantly, carrying out a task that requires creative thinking affects people’s mood. This provides considerable support for the idea that mood and cognition are not only related, but also that this relation is fully reciprocal (Bar, 2009; Gray, 2004; Gross, 2002; Salovey et al., 2002). Moreover, divergent and convergent thinking impact mood in opposite ways: divergent thinking is improving one’s mood while convergent thinking is lowering it. This dissociation is consistent with Akbari Chermahini and Hommel’s (2010) observation that both types of thinking are related to one’s dopamine level—the common currency that apparently mediates the interaction—but that these two relationships follow rather different functions. It also fits with the observation of Hommel et al. (2011) that convergent and divergent thinking support two different types of cognitive control. Finally, mood changes were particularly pronounced with actual task performance but mere preparation was also effective to some degree. The latter observation might suggest that divergent thinking and convergent thinking tasks evoke different, apparently even opposite stereotypical reactions which, as in intelligence tasks, do not seem to reflect individual performance and, thus, objective task characteristics. However, this effect might also indicate that preparing for divergent versus convergent thinking foreshadows the stronger performance-related effect, for instance because preparation involves the pre-activation of the very task-specific sets or states that are responsible for the mood swings that we observed. In any case, however, actually carrying out the task and, thus, the related thinking operations further boosts the task-specific mood changes to a degree that goes beyond possible stereotypical responses.


Akbari Chermahini, S. & Hommel, B. Psychological Research (2012) 76: 634.

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