Mood and creativity

The relationship between emotion and cognition has been studied since the 90s. Mainly, the influence of mood on cognitive processes (Mayer et al., 1995). Mood seems to influence in perception and interpretation of the stimulus, as well as the way in which we remember past facts, and the bias that we have in those remembrance processes.

From psychophysiological studies, both theoretical models and within-subject trials, it is pointed to a positive relationship between positive affect state and creativity. In this sense, positive affect seems to be related to the improvement in many cognitive tasks.

A neuropsychological theory of positive affect

This theory predicts influences of positive affect on creative problem solving, besides the consolidation of long-term (i.e., episodic) memories, working memory, and olfaction.

The theory assumes that creative problem solving is improved, in part, because increased dopamine release in the anterior cingulate improves cognitive flexibility and facilitates the selection of cognitive perspective (Ashby, et al., 1999).

The dopaminergic model of positive affect and creativity

emociones y creatividad

The dopaminergic model of positive  indicates that the positive mood is associated with an increase of dopamine level in the brain, which are related to the processing improvement in different cognitive sets, and a better functioning of integrated memory (Martin, et al., 1993; Schwarz et al., 1993).

Creativity allows giving more innovative and original solutions to the problems. Equally, from a positive mood state, it is improved the person’s capacity for organizing concepts in diverse ways and access to new cognitive perspectives (Mednick, 1962). The positive mood also allows the easier recovering of positive valence information.

From the Affect Infusion Model (AIM: Forgas, 1995), it is argued that the emotional state influences cognitive processes through two mechanisms:

Mood and cognitive processes

Thus, when an individual is in a state of positive affect, perceives that the situation is sure and that everything is going to be fine. In a high state of positive mood, the information process is less systematic, divergent thinking shows up, allowing explore new ideas and so, the creativity emergence (Baas et al., 2008).

Negative affect and creativity

The relationship between negative affect and creativity remains less clear. In fact, there are coexistent theories in conflict yet.

Some studies indicate that different signals, which point to a problematic situation and insecure for an individual, provoke processing of information more systematic and in detail, that is focused on specific information from the exterior (Baas et al., 2008, p. 783).


High levels of negative affect are associated with a lower level of confidence that the efforts made are sufficient, and this hinders creativity (Martin et al., 1996).

It is proved that sadness influences the thinking processes. Sadness feeling is related to a low propension to apply heuristic judgments and instead by guided by rigid and stereotyped processes, which cancels any hint of creativity.

Nevertheless, other authors point to negative affect is related to fewer cognitive distractions, and this increases persistence in the task and enhances creativity (De Dreu et al., 2008).

Specifically, in the workplace, some authors argue that an affective signal associated with a problematic situation would motivate individuals to find a creative solution that leads to improving that situation (George et al., 2002).

Related directly to creativity, five affective processes have been identified:

Different affective processes operate in different ways on diverse creativity areas, and for distinct types of creative tasks. The influence of each on the creative process remains unknown, and some theories come from Psychoanalysis (Russ, 1999), so one part of the scientific community does not back them.

In any case, emotional facilitation seems to be important for creativity. It is understood as the ability to generate, use, and feel emotions in communication and cognitive processes. This implies redirecting and prioritizing the thought based on feelings to using the emotions on decision-making facilitation, solving problems, and creativity.


Ashby, F.G., Isen, A.M, Turken, A.U. (1999) Psychological Review 106(3):529-50.  DOI: 10.1037/0033-295x.106.3.529.

Baas, M., De Dreu, C. W., & Nijstad, B. A. (2008). A meta-analysis of 25 years of mood-creativity research: Hedonic tone, activation, or regulatory focus? Psychological Bulletin, 134(6), 779–806.

De Dreu, C. W., Baas, M., & Nijstad, B. A. (2008). Hedonic tone and activation level in the mood–creativity link: Toward a dual pathway to creativity model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 739–756.

Forgas, J. P. (1995). Mood and judgment: The affect infusion model. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 39–66.

George, J. M., & Zhou, J. (2002). Understanding when bad moods foster creativity and good ones don’t: The role of context and clarity of feelings. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(4), 687–697.

Martin, L. L., & Stoner, P. (1996). Mood as input: What we think about how we feel determines how we think. In L. L. Martin & A. Tesser (Eds)., Striving and feeling: Interactions among goals, affect, and self-regulation (pp. 279–301). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Martin, L. L., Ward, D. W., Achee, J. W., & Wyer, R. S. (1993). Mood as input: People have to interpret the motivational implications of their mood. Journal of Personality and SocialPsychology, 64, 317–326.

Mayer, J., & Hanson, E. (1995). Mood-congruent judgment over time. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, (21), 237–244.

Mednick, S. (1962). The associative basis of the creative process. Psychological Review, 69(3), 220–232.

Russ, S. W. (1999). Emotion/Affect. In M. . Runco & S. R. Pritzker (Eds)., Encyclopedia of Creativity (vol. I) (pp. 659–668). San Diego: CA Academic Press.

Schwarz, N., & Clore, G. L. (1993). Mood, misattribution, and judgments of well-being: Informative and directive functions of affective states. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 513–523.

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