Emotions Can Stimulate or Hinder Creativity

Emotions Can Stimulate or Hinder Creativity – Use Emotions To Enhance Your Creativity

 By Chinyere Nwosu – June 2023

Emotions Can Stimulate or Hinder Creativity - cover

Emotions can be a powerful force in our lives. They can shape our experiences, influence our decisions, and even impact our creativity. Whether it is the exhilaration of success, the profound sadness of loss, the burning passion of anger, or the uneasiness of uncertainties, our emotions have profound impact on how we perceive the world around us. The way you perceive things and respond to the world is affected by what you feel each time.

However, emotions do not only affect perception, memory, and decision-making, as confirmed by Brosch et. al (2013). Emotions also have significant effects on our creativity. They can either stimulate or hinder our creative abilities. Psychology reviews say that positive emotions enhance creativity, given that they broaden the mind, while negative emotions impede creativity because they narrow our view.

Creativity is important in many significant areas of our lives – our dressing, jobs, home décor, cooking, various art forms, and trade. It is paramount that we understand how emotions affect us every day.


How do different emotions influence our creativity?


Do positive emotions promote or inhibit creativity?

Generally, Positive emotions, such as joy, love, gratitude, and excitement, can serve as powerful catalysts for creativity. This is because they make us happy, satisfied, or/and energized.

High and low motivational intensity positive emotions

Both high and low-motivational-intensity emotions were tested in a research. As reported by Eddie Harmmon-Jones et al, participants were shown funny video clips of cats, which triggered emotions of low motivational intensity, and video clips of delicious-looking desserts aimed to trigger emotions with high motivational intensity. The result of the experiment, measured by subjects making detailed or holistic matches to a target subject, revealed that – although both video clips evoked positive emotions, the video about cats broadened the mind, whereas the delicious desserts narrowed the subjects’ scope of attention.

Therefore, some positive emotions enhance creativity more than others. The cat video was simply amusing (low motivational intensity) and produced results that support the theory more.

What the broaden-and-build theory says

The broaden-and-build theory says that positive emotions expand cognitive and behavioral repertoire. This means that when we experience these emotions, we can explore new possibilities, connect with others, and build on our strengths.

Barbara Fredrickson expounding the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions said that “joy sparks the urge to play, interest sparks the urge to explore, contentment sparks the urge to savour and integrate, and love sparks a recurring cycle of each of these urges within safe, close relationships.” (Fredrickson, 2004)

Consequentially, broadening our thought-action repertoire using positive emotions will promote social bonds and creative ideas. This act will build personal resources (social, physical, and intellectual). We can also draw from this reserve to solve other problems.

Mental health research agrees

Mental health research also shows that positive emotions reduce the negative effects of stress, anxiety, and fear.

It has also been established through experimentation that positive emotions enhance creative output, both in quantity and quality. (Sue Langley (Sept 2018).

When we are in a positive state of mind, our creativity tends to flourish. We are more open to new ideas, more willing to take risks, and more likely to think outside the box.


Do negative emotions promote or inhibit creativity?

Negative emotions like sadness, anger, and fear can pose challenges to our creative process. Negative emotions can cloud our judgment, limit our perspective, and impede our problem-solving skills. This may hinder our ability to think creatively.

However, some psychologists do not totally agree with the claim that negative emotions always impede creativity. John Eastwood (a psychologist at the Boredom Lab at York University, Canada) says that boredom causes us to have the ‘desire to bind’ (when you are stuck because you desperately want to do something but not what is on offer) and keeps our mental capacity lying fallow. Eddie Harmon-Jones argues that the effect of emotion is dependent on its motivational intensity.


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Must we draw a line between how positive and negative emotions affect creativity?

Recent research suggests that a divide between positive and negative emotions concerning their effect on creativity may not be the best.

Some schools of thought say that “positive emotions are beneficial for big picture, creative, and innovative thinking, while negative emotions create more accuracy, bottoms up neural processing and problem finding.” (Langley, 2018)

Eddie Harmon-Jones and his colleagues (2013) suggest that low motivational intensity emotions broaden cognitive scope, whereas high motivational intensity emotions narrow cognitive scope. This conclusion is based on test results on the effect of negative high motivational intensity emotions (e.g., fear, stress) and positive low motivational intensity emotions (e.g., gratitude, amusement) on broadening the mind. Although the research supports the claim that positive emotions enhance creativity and negative emotions narrow our creative field, they argue that further research is needed to further consolidate the claim.

A social psychologist, Joe Forgas, who studies emotion, affect, and mood, states that positive moods promote creativity, flexibility, cooperation, and life satisfaction. However, he also pointed out that sadness sharpens our attention and makes us more focused and diligent.

Research shows that the intensity of the emotion matters. Just like we saw with positive emotions, Eddie Harmon-Jones reports that low motivational intensity emotions like sadness broaden attentional focus, whereas high motivational intensity emotions like disgust, narrow focus.

The source of the negative emotion has also been highlighted as an important factor to determine its effect on creativity. Anger due to injustice or unfairness can stimulate creativity. However, the usefulness or harmfulness of the ideas will depend on the source of the trigger and the recipient of the idea. Ivcevic reports that at work, anger directly related to a people’s work will cause them to engage in dark creativity. But if the anger is triggered by something outside the organization, the creative energy is directed towards addressing the source of the emotion.


Find a balance

Finding a balance between positive and negative emotions is the key to unlocking our creative potential.

In the end, it’s important to remember that emotions are not obstacles to creativity but rather powerful tools that can fuel imagination and drive innovation.

So, embrace your emotions, explore their depths, and let them guide you on a journey of boundless creativity.




Eddie Harmon-JonesPhilip A. Gable, and Tom F. Price (2013), Does Negative Affect Always Narrow and Positive Affect Always Broaden the Mind? Considering the Influence of Motivational Intensity of Cognitive Scope, Sage Journal Volume 22, Issue 4, https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721413481353

Forgas, Joseph P. (2011), The Upside of Feeling Down: The Benefits of Negative Mood for Social Cognition and Social Behaviour, Sydney Symposium of Social Psychology, 2011: Social Thinking and Interpersonal Behaviour

Fredrickson, B. L. (2004), The Broaden-and-build Theory of Positive Emotions, Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2004 Sep 29; 359(1449): 1367–1378., doi: 10.1098/rstb.2004.1512, available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1693418/

Ivcevic, Z. (2023) What is the Role of Emotions in Creativity? The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity and Emotions by Zorana Ivcevic, Jessica D. Hoffmann, and James C. Kaufman, ISBN: 9781009013086

Kaufman, Scott Barry (2015), The Emotions That Make Us More Creative, HBR.August 12, 2015

Langley, Sue (2018), Facilitating Positive Emotions for Greater Creativity and Innovation September 2018


Tobias Brosch, Klaus Scherer, Didier Grandjean, David Sander (2013), The Impact of Emotion on Perception, Attention, Memory, and decision-making, Review article: Biomedical intelligence, Vol. 143 No. 1920 (2013)



Comments (1)

  1. Hi friends, fastidious post and good urging commented at this place,
    I am really enjoying by these.

    January 22, 2024 at 11:50 am

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