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Go Ahead and Get Mad: Why Anger Spurs Creativity (But Not for Long)

(Polka Dot)

A series of studies by Dutch researchers examines the effect anger has on people’s problem solving skills, and finds that angry people produce a higher volume of ideas, as well as more creative ones than their non-angry counterparts. The study’s authors reason that anger is usually accompanied by a feeling of intense energy and a less-structured style of thinking, two factors that lead to creative forms of brainstorming.
That burst of productivity however is short-lived and ultimately creativity is reduced as a result. The authors found that anger leads to initially higher levels of creativity than sadness, but that anger depletes resources more. As a result creative performance declines over time more for angry people than sad ones.
So, if it’s your job to be creative for long periods of time, better to be sad than angry. But if all you need are short bursts of sporadic creativity, rage away.
The study is published in the November issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Here’s the abstract:

Anecdotes and introspective reports from eminent scientists and artists aside, a systematic test of the putative creativity-enhancing effect of anger is missing. This article fills this void with three experiments examining creativity as a function of anger (vs. sad or a mood-neutral control state). Combining insights from the literatures on creativity and on mood and information processing the authors predicted that anger (vs. sadness and a mood-neutral control state) triggers a less systematic and structured approach to the creativity task, and leads to initially higher levels of creativity (as manifested in original ideation and creative insights). Following work on resource depletion, the authors further predicted that anger more than sadness depletes resources and that, therefore, creative performance should decline over time more for angry than for sad people. Results supported predictions. Implications for creativity, information processing, and resource depletion are discussed.