The Creativity of Anger
Hi, all. I was reading articles on Flipboard today and thought this Wired article was interesting for our class. In particular, I thought the following passages from the article made me think about how we work, how we think about creativity, standards, etc….
But maybe this is a big mistake. Maybe Steve Jobs was on to something when he refused to hide away his disappointment or displeasure. That, at least, is the takeaway of a new paper by Matthijs Baas, Carsten De Dreu, and Bernard Nijstad in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Their first experiment was straightforward, demonstrating that anger was better at promoting “unstructured thinking” on a creativity task, at least when compared to sadness or a neutral mood. The second experiment elicited anger directly in the subjects, before asking them to brainstorm on ways to improve the condition of the natural environment. Once again, people who felt angry generated more ideas. These ideas were also deemed more original, as they were thought of by less than 1 percent of the subjects.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that anger is a cure-all, or that nastiness is always wise. For one thing, anger is exhausting and “resource depleting.” Although angry subjects initially generated more ideas, their performance quickly declined. By the end of the idea-generation session, they were performing at roughly the same level as everyone else.
Why does anger have this effect on the imagination? I think the answer is still unclear – we’re only beginning to understand how moods influence cognition. But my own sense is that anger is deeply stimulating and energizing. It’s a burst of adrenaline that allows us to dig a little deeper, to get beyond the usual superficial free-associations. In contrast, when our mood is neutral or content, there is no incentive to embrace unfamiliar possibilities, to engage in mental risks or brash new concepts. (Why rock the boat?) The absence of criticism has kept us in the same place. And this is why anger makes it easier to think different.
What do you think?