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The Dark Side of Creativity: Biological Vulnerability and Negative Emotions Lead to Greater Artistic Creativity

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Historical and empirical data have linked artistic creativity to depression and other affective disorders. This study examined how vulnerability to experiencing negative affect, measured with biological products, and intense negative emotions influenced artistic creativity. The authors assessed participants' baseline levels of an adrenal steroid (dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate, or DHEAS), previously linked to depression, as a measure of affective vulnerability. They then manipulated emotional responses by randomly assigning participants to receive social rejection or social approval or to a nonsocial situation. Participants then completed artistic collages, which were later evaluated by artists. Results confirmed a person-by-situation interaction. Social rejection was associated with greater artistic creativity; however, the interaction between affective vulnerability (lower baseline DHEAS) and condition was significant, suggesting that situational triggers of negative affect were especially influential among those lower in DHEAS, which resulted in the most creative products. These data provide evidence of possible biological and social pathways to artistic creativity.
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The Dark Side of Creativity: Biological
Vulnerability and Negative Emotions Lead to
Greater Artistic Creativity
Modupe Akinola
Wendy Berry Mendes
Harvard University
intense negative emotions can create powerful self-
reflective thought and perseverance, leading to
increased creativity (De Dreu, Baas, & Nijstad, 2008;
Kaufman & Baer, 2002; Verhaeghen, Joormann, &
Khan, 2005; cf. Isen, 2000). In this article, we explore
individual differences and situational factors related to
creativity. We show that when individuals are biologi-
cally vulnerable to experiencing negative affect and are
exposed to a situation that brings about intense negative
emotion, they show the most artistic creativity.
Individual Differences in Creativity
Decades of empirical research on personality traits of
highly creative individuals have identified a relatively
consistent set of core characteristics of creative individ-
uals. These traits include, for example, introversion,
emotional sensitivity, openness to experience, and
impulsivity (see Feist, 1998, for a review). At the
extreme of affective personality factors linked to cre-
ativity are mood disorders. Historical figures in a vari-
ety of creative domains, ranging from Emily Dickinson
to Robert Schumann, have been found to have suffered
Authors’ Note: We thank Teresa Amabile for her assistance on the cre-
ativity task and for her intellectual guidance. We also thank the many
dedicated lab assistants at the Health and Psychophysiology Lab at
Harvard, especially Marina Nasman and Kathy Lee for their assistance
in conducting this experiment. Wendy Berry Mendes was supported by
a National Institute of Heart, Lung, and Blood grant (RO1 HL079383)
and by a Cooke research grant. Please address correspondence to
Wendy Berry Mendes, Harvard University, 33 Kirkland, WJH 1420,
Cambridge, MA 02138; e-mail: wbm@wjh.harvard.edu.
PSPB, Vol. XX No. X, Month XXXX xx-xx
DOI: 10.1177/0146167208323933
© 2008 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.
Historical and empirical data have linked artistic cre-
ativity to depression and other affective disorders. This
study examined how vulnerability to experiencing neg-
ative affect, measured with biological products, and
intense negative emotions influenced artistic creativity.
The authors assessed participants’ baseline levels of an
adrenal steroid (dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate, or
DHEAS), previously linked to depression, as a measure
of affective vulnerability. They then manipulated emo-
tional responses by randomly assigning participants to
receive social rejection or social approval or to a nonso-
cial situation. Participants then completed artistic col-
lages, which were later evaluated by artists. Results
confirmed a person-by-situation interaction. Social
rejection was associated with greater artistic creativity;
however, the interaction between affective vulnerability
(lower baseline DHEAS) and condition was significant,
suggesting that situational triggers of negative affect
were especially influential among those lower in
DHEAS, which resulted in the most creative products.
These data provide evidence of possible biological and
social pathways to artistic creativity.
Keywords: creativity; social rejection; neuroendocrine;
DHEAS; affective vulnerability
What makes someone creative? Certainly, some
individuals are more creative than others. We
merely need to compare da Vinci and Monet master-
pieces to our own prosaic attempts at drawing a bowl of
fruit to conclude that artistic creativity is something that
is individualized and immutable. However, there is sub-
stantial research that shows evidence for strong situa-
tional factors influencing creativity. In some cases,
Pers Soc Psychol Bull OnlineFirst, published on October 1, 2008 as doi:10.1177/0146167208323933
from depression and other mood disorders (Goodwin &
Jamison, 1990; Ramey & Weisberg, 2004; Weisberg,
1994). Clinical, empirical, and biographical studies of
creative individuals have shown that those in the cre-
ative arts suffer from significantly higher rates of mood
disorders compared to matched controls (Andreasen,
1987; Ludwig, 1995), and mood disorders are 8 to 10
times more prevalent in writers and artists than in the
general population (Jamison, 1993).
One way to index vulnerability to experiencing
depression or negative mood is with biological products.
Major depression is often associated with dysregulation
of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocorticol axis,
which controls the release of adrenal steroids. One
adrenal steroid that is commonly implicated in depres-
sion is dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its active
metabolite DHEA sulfate (DHEAS). DHEAS levels have
been found to be lower in those being treated for depres-
sion (Wolkowitz et al., 1997), and adrenal stimulation—
resulting in increased DHEA levels—has been associated
with lower symptom severity and improved mood in
patient samples (Rasmusson et al., 2004). The anxiolytic
effects of DHEA are believed to stem from its ability to
counter-regulate the deleterious effects of high cortisol
and as a precursor to sex hormones (see Epel, Burke, &
Wolkowitz, 2007, and Southwick, Vythilingam, &
Charney, 2005, for reviews). In this study, we examine
DHEAS level and its link to artistic creativity.
Emotional Influences on Creativity
Although dispositional traits have been reliably linked
to creativity, person-level factors are only half of the
story; situational factors have been related to creativity
as well. Literature on mood and creativity has demon-
strated that both positive and negative affect can influence
creative performance. Although some evidence suggests
that positive mood can enhance creativity (see Isen, 2000,
for a review), many other studies have demonstrated that
negative affect can have a facilitative effect on creativity
(see Kaufmann, 2003, for a review).
The contradictory findings regarding the effects of
emotion on creativity stem from a variety of reasons,
but the critical factors seem to be the type of task that
is being used as the outcome of creativity and the nature
of the emotional experience. Regarding the type of cre-
ativity, in some cases optimal creative performance may
require elaboration and analytic processing with high
detail orientation (Mackie & Worth, 1991; Schwarz,
1990). For example, it has been found that negative
mood can result in enhanced solution frequency on cre-
ative tasks, particularly during tasks that require con-
centration, precise execution, divergent thinking, and
analogical problem solving (Abele, 1992; Jausovec,
1989; Kaufmann & Vosburg, 1997). In other cases,
optimal creative performance may require increased
reliance on rapid, less effortful judgment heuristic
strategies that show little systematic and analytic pro-
cessing (Fiedler, 2000; Isen, Daubman, & Nowicki,
1987).
The type of emotional state appears to have an influ-
ence on creativity as well. In a recent meta-analysis,
Baas, De Dreu, and Nijstad (in press) propose that in
addition to positive and negative mood, level of activa-
tion should be examined in an effort to better under-
stand the relationship between mood and creativity.
Specifically, they offer evidence that activating mood
states (i.e., anger, fear, happiness) versus deactivating
mood states (i.e., calm, relaxed, sad, depressed) can dif-
ferentially affect creative performance. In their dual
pathway model of creativity (De Dreu et al., 2008), acti-
vating moods that are negative in hedonic tone are
believed to enhance creative fluency and originality
through enhanced perseverance. In contrast, activating
moods that are positive in hedonic tone enhance cre-
ative fluency and originality through enhanced cogni-
tive flexibility. In this research, we focus on a creative
task that required concentration, high detail orienta-
tion, and originality (Amabile, 1996), and we manipu-
lated high-arousal, activating emotional states.
Person ×Situation Model of Artistic Creativity
Research suggests that creativity can be explained
partly by personality characteristics but also by situa-
tional variables related to changing or enhancing affec-
tive states. A third option considers the interaction of
person and situational variables, as evidenced through the
classic interactionism approach (Endler & Magnusson,
1976). This approach suggests that situational factors
can moderate the effect of person factors and has been
used in a wide variety of social–psychological phenom-
ena (see Mischel, 2004). In this study, we examined bio-
logical products linked to depression—DHEAS—and
manipulated emotional states to test their combined
effects on artistic creativity. We anticipated that engen-
dering high-arousal negative emotions would bring
about increased artistic creativity and that this effect
would be exacerbated among those with lower levels of
DHEAS—an index of affective vulnerability.
Study Overview
This experiment engendered high-arousal emotional
states by exposing participants to a laboratory task
(Trier Social Stress Task; Kirschbaum, Pirke, &
Hellhammer, 1993) designed to elicit strong and endur-
ing positive or negative emotional responses. We chose
social feedback as our experimental manipulation
2PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
because decades of social–psychological research has
shown that social approval, versus rejection, differen-
tially affects mood, self-esteem, behavior, and physiol-
ogy (Crocker, Cornwell, & Major, 1993; Dickerson,
Gruenewald, & Kemeny, 2004; Leary et al., 2003;
Mendes, Major, McCoy, & Blascovich, 2008).
During the initial task, participants received either
explicit positive or negative feedback from a panel
of interviewers during a mock job interview. Neuro-
endocrine responses (DHEAS) were assessed at the
beginning of the experiment, and self-reported emotions
were assessed throughout the experiment. Artistic cre-
ativity was assessed prior to and following the manipu-
lation of emotional states.
There were three primary predictions that we tested.
First, the affective vulnerability prediction tested the idea
that participants who were biologically vulnerable—as
indexed by lower DHEAS levels—would experience
greater increases in negative affect after receiving reject-
ing social feedback. Second, we predicted that partici-
pants receiving social rejection would produce the most
creative artistic products. Finally, we predicted a person
×
situation interaction such that biological products
(DHEAS) would interact with situational triggers, elic-
iting high-arousal negative affect. Specifically, we
expected that participants who were lower in DHEAS
and who received rejecting social feedback would pro-
duce the most creative artistic products.
METHOD
Participants
We recruited 96 young adults (65 females) to take
part in a 2-hour study on “physiological responses during
various laboratory tasks.” Participants were recruited
via newspaper advertisements in the Boston area speci-
fying adults between the ages of 18 and 25. We pre-
screened prospective participants for general health
conditions and provided study day instructions that
were intended to reduce factors that would influence
neuroendocrine products (e.g., consuming dairy prod-
ucts with live cultures, use of caffeine, recent exercise,
etc.; Kirschbaum & Hellhammer, 1994).
Procedure
Each participant arrived at the lab during afternoon
hours and, after a 30-minute rest period, provided a
saliva sample that we later assayed for DHEAS. Saliva
was obtained in sterile tubes using the passive drool
method, which requires participants to expectorate into
a cryovial via a plastic straw. Upon completion of the
study, saliva samples were stored immediately at –80 °C
until they were shipped overnight on dry ice to a labo-
ratory in College Park, Pennsylvania. Saliva samples were
assayed for DHEAS using a highly sensitive enzyme
immunoassay (Salimetrics).1The test used 50 ul of
saliva per determination and has a lower limit of sensi-
tivity of 10 pg/mL and a range of standard curve from
10.2 to 1,000 pg/mL; its average intra- and interassay
coefficients of variation are 4.9% and 3.45%, respec-
tively. Five samples could not be assayed because of
either blood contamination or not enough saliva.
Baseline creativity. After the saliva sample was
obtained, participants completed a creativity task, the
Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults (ATTA; Goff &
Torrance, 2002), which was intended to serve as a base-
line level of creativity. Participants were given 3 minutes
to complete the task, which consisted of nine triangles
on a page, and they were instructed to use the triangles
“to make some pictures” that were “unusual” and
“interesting” and to give each picture a title along a
common theme.
Social evaluation task. Following the baseline cre-
ativity task, participants were instructed that they
would be preparing and delivering an 8-minute speech
followed by a 5-minute question-and-answer (Q&A)
period in a mock job interview. Participants were ran-
domly assigned to one of three evaluative conditions. In
the two experimental conditions, the participants were
instructed that they would be delivering the speech to
two evaluators; in the control condition, the partici-
pants were instructed they would be delivering the
speech alone in the room. Once the participants con-
sented to this part of the study, for those in the experi-
mental conditions two experimenters (one male, one
female) entered the room to reiterate the task instruc-
tions. For those in the control condition, the experi-
menter repeated the instructions. Following the
instructions, all participants were left alone for 2 min-
utes to prepare for the speech.
For those in the experimental conditions, after the
preparation period the evaluators reentered the room
and participants began the speech. At this point, the
experimental conditions diverged into either the social
approval or social rejection conditions. The role of the
evaluators was carefully scripted, coordinated, and
timed so that all participants had a consistent experi-
ence. Accordingly, the evaluators were trained to pre-
sent themselves with confidence and assumed authority.
The social approval condition consisted of the evalua-
tors’ giving explicit positive feedback (e.g., “You are
very clear and manage to put your personality across.
You are very self-assured and authentic, really great
job”) as well as exhibiting positive nonverbal behavior
Akinola, Mendes / DARK SIDE OF CREATIVITY 3
during the participant’s speech, for example, smiling,
nodding, and leaning forward. In contrast, the social
rejection condition consisted of evaluators’ shaking
their heads, frowning, and giving explicit negative feed-
back during the speech (e.g., “I felt that you could be
much clearer and more articulate. Think about what
you are saying before you say it”).
Participants in the control condition were instructed
by the experimenter to give a speech while alone in the
room and then to answer questions that appeared on
index cards. The control condition was designed to
require similar metabolic demands associated with speak-
ing but not engender any specific strong emotional state.
Self-report measures. We assessed demand and
resources appraisals, emotional states, and participants’
perceptions of how the interviewers evaluated them.
Immediately following the speech, participants were
queried regarding their resource appraisals of the situa-
tion (e.g., I had the abilities to perform well on the task;
Mendes, Gray, Mendoza-Denton, Major, & Epel,
2007). Participants rated their agreement with each sen-
tence on a 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree)
scale. Self-reported emotions were assessed both prior
to and after the speech task using the Positive and
Negative Affect Schedule (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen,
1988), which measures high-arousal, activated emo-
tions. Participants rated their feelings on 20 emotional
states (10 positive and 10 negative) using 5-point scales
ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5 (a great deal). Positive
and negative emotion scales were calculated for each
time point and had high reliability (alphas ranged from
.85 to .91). After both the speech and the Q&A tasks,
participants assigned to the social evaluation conditions
rated how well they believed each of the interviewers
thought they performed (e.g., She thought I performed
well on the task). Responses for the male and female
judges were highly correlated (α=.91), so we combined
these responses into a single score.
Creativity task. After the speech task, participants
were given 10 minutes to complete a second artistic cre-
ativity task.2Following procedures outlined by Amabile
(1982), participants were given a 10-×-15-inch piece
of cardboard, a bottle of glue, a bottle of glitter, and
54 pieces of felt and paper in various shapes, sizes, and
colors and were told to make a collage on the card-
board. Participants were given the following specific
instructions:
Feel free to use any of the materials that you like, but you
don’t have to use any that you don’t want to—it is entirely
up to you. You are not required to use anything in partic-
ular; just make a collage that you find interesting.
This test of creativity has been demonstrated to yield
reliable assessments of artistic creativity (Amabile,
1982). Following this task, participants were debriefed
and thanked.
Creativity Assessment
We recruited local artists to judge the creative prod-
ucts generated by the participants following the consen-
sual assessment technique guidelines (Amabile, 1982).
Eight artists (four professional artists and four graduate
students in studio arts) with an average of 10 years of
studio art experience were scheduled one at a time to
judge each collage, and a subset of these artists judged
the baseline creativity task (the ATTA).3
Prior to evaluating each collage, the judges were
asked to create their own collages and were given the
same instructions as participants. They then proceeded
to judge participants’ collages. Each collage was rated
on 21 dimensions, which were assessed by having the
judges mark an Xon an 18 mm line anchored from low
to high with a midpoint labeled medium. Consistent
with the consensual assessment technique, judges were
asked to use their own subjective definition in rating
each of the dimensions.
We performed exploratory factor analysis with vari-
max rotation on the 21 dimensions and found that 15 of
the 21 dimensions loaded high on one factor (factor load-
ings >.38).4 Interrater reliabilities were acceptable (alphas
ranged from .65 to .88). Therefore, we created a single
index of collage creativity per participant, averaged
across judges and across the 15 dimensions, which forms
our primary dependent variable of creativity (α=.96).
RESULTS
Manipulation Checks
We first examined if the social feedback manipula-
tions were perceived as intended. There was no ambi-
guity regarding the manipulated conditions of social
rejection and approval. Participants in the social
approval condition perceived the evaluators as liking
their interviews more than those in the social rejection
condition, F(1, 44) =26.33, p <.0001 (Table 1). Social
approval also resulted in participants’ perceiving them-
selves as having more resources than those in the rejec-
tion condition, F(1, 88) =4.20, p <.05. We created an
index of emotional responses (negative emotion – posi-
tive emotion) to provide a single index of negative affect
without the buffering effects of positive emotion. The
negative affect index differed by condition, with those
assigned to social rejection reporting less positive and more
negative emotion (controlling for baseline emotional
4PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
responses) than those assigned to social approval, F(1,
85) =4.54, p <.04. Given these findings, we were con-
fident that we successfully manipulated social rejection
and approval.
As an initial examination of our predictions, we
explored zero-order and first-order partial correlations
among our primary dependent variables by condition
(Table 2). The partial correlations include pretask neg-
ative affect as a control variable to best assess changes
in emotional responses as a result of the manipulated
social setting. Significant relationships were found
among DHEAS, creativity, and negative emotional
responses, most notably from the social rejection condi-
tion. These relationships are explored below, organized
by the specific predictions.
Affective Vulnerability
Our first prediction was that lower DHEAS would
bring about greater increases in negative affect when
participants received rejecting social feedback.
However, we anticipated that this vulnerability would
not be related to changes in negative affect following
social approval or the nonsocial condition. To establish
this initial effect, we conducted hierarchical regression
analyses in which the first step included baseline
DHEAS, condition effects (two effect-coded predictor
variables to represent the three levels of evaluation; we
coded social rejection as the reference condition), and
pretask emotions as a covariate to predict the poststres-
sor negative affect index. This first step produced an
overall significant model (R2=.487, p <.0001). The
second step included all the initial predictors plus the
interaction terms (condition by DHEAS). As expected,
the inclusion of the interaction terms significantly
increased model fit (ΔR2=.041, p<.04). Supporting the
affective vulnerability prediction, following rejecting
social feedback the lower the participants’ DHEAS, the
greater their negative emotional reactions (b=–.07, p<
.01; Figure 1). The relationships between DHEAS and
negative emotions were not significant following the
social approval condition (b=–.01, ns) or following the
nonsocial condition (b=.02, ns).
Effects of Social Rejection on Creativity
We then turned to predictions regarding creativity:
Our second prediction was that social rejection would
increase artistic creativity relative to the other two eval-
uative conditions, social approval and the control con-
dition. To test this prediction, a regression analysis
similar to the one described above was conducted,
although this time we predicted creativity scores using
baseline DHEAS and condition effects.5The main effect
for DHEAS was not significant, but both condition
Akinola, Mendes / DARK SIDE OF CREATIVITY 5
TABLE 1: Means and Standard Deviations (in parentheses) of
Perceptions of Judges, Emotions, Appraisals, and
Creativity by Feedback Condition
Feedback Condition
Social Evaluation Nonsocial
Rejection Approval Control
“[Judges] thought I 3.1 (1.3)a5.1 (1.3)b
performed well”1
Negative emotions2, 3 –1.1 (1.1)a–1.6 (1.1)b–1.4 (1.1)b
Resource appraisals 3.7 (0.8)a4.3 (0.8)b3.9 (0.9)a
Creativity 9.4 (1.8)a7.7 (1.6)b8.4 (2.0)b
NOTE: Different subscript letters across rows indicate significant dif-
ferences by condition.
1. We averaged ratings made for the male and female judges.
2. Emotion ratings were created by subtracting positive emotions from
negative emotions, such that higher numbers indicate more negative
emotions.
3. Means are adjusted for pretask emotion ratings.
TABLE 2: Zero-Order and First-Order Partial Correlations
Among Primary Dependent Variables by Feedback
Condition
Feedback Condition:
Control
2. Negative
1. DHEAS Emotions 3. Creativity
1. DHEAS .23 .23
2. Negative emotions .08 .23
3. Creativity .21 .29
Feedback Condition:
Social Rejection
2. Negative
1. DHEAS Emotions 3. Creativity
1. DHEAS .30 –.51**
2. Negative emotions –.50** .23
3. Creativity –.53** .44*
Feedback Condition:
Social Approval
2. Negative
1. DHEAS Emotions 3. Creativity
1. DHEAS –.09 .14
2. Negative emotions .00 .19
3. Creativity .15 .24
NOTE: Zero-order correlations appear above the dashed diagonals;
partial correlations appear below the dashed diagonals. Partial corre-
lations control for pretask emotion ratings. Negative emotion ratings
were obtained immediately following the question-and-answer task
and were calculated by subtracting the average of positive emotions
from negative emotions, such that higher numbers indicate more neg-
ative emotions. DHEAS =dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate.
*p<.05. **p<.01.
effects were: control versus rejection, t(86) =–2.39, p<
.02, and approval versus rejection, t(86) =–3.59, p<
.0005. As can be seen in Table 1, collages were judged to
be the most creative following social rejection (M=9.4),
which significantly differed from the control condition
(M=8.4) and the social approval condition (M=7.7).
Our final prediction was that the interaction between
baseline DHEAS and the evaluation manipulation
would predict artistic creativity. To test this interaction,
we added a second step to the regression analysis
described immediately above, after the main effects
(condition and DHEAS) were accounted for in Step 1;
Step 2 included the interaction terms. The change in R2
with the addition of the interactions was significant,
ΔR2=.074, p<.006, as were the interactions: approval
versus rejection, t(80) =2.28, p<.03; and control ver-
sus rejection, t(80) =2.44, p <.02 (Figure 2). Following
social rejection, there was a significant negative rela-
tionship between DHEAS and creativity such that the
lower baseline DHEAS, the higher the creativity scores
(b=–.14, p<.01). DHEAS and creativity were not reli-
ably related following social approval (b=.02, ns) or in
the control condition (b=.07, ns).
How Social Rejection Affected Creativity:
Mediational Analysis
Given our significant results for our targeted hypothe-
ses, our final analyses included testing the possible medi-
ating role of negative emotional responses. We would
anticipate that negative emotional responses are one
possible mechanism through which increased creativity
occurred; however, we would only expect this to be the
case following social rejection. Therefore, we expected
that biological vulnerability (lower DHEAS) would
make one more susceptible to experiencing greater neg-
ative emotions following rejecting social feedback and
that these changes in emotions would then lead to
greater artistic creativity. Therefore, we conducted
a series of regression analyses in which we tested a
mediated-moderation analysis; that is, the possibility
that negative emotions would mediate the relationship
between the Person ×Situation interaction (DHEAS and
evaluative condition) and creativity (Baron & Kenny,
1986). Because we predicted that the social rejection
condition would be the only condition that yielded medi-
ation, we used the same contrast codes as before so that
the reference condition was social rejection. The first
regression equation predicting creativity using the two
Person ×Situation interaction terms yielded significant
effects for both terms: approval versus rejection, t(82) =
2.69, p<.009, and control versus rejection, t(82) =2.35,
p<.02 (Figure 3). The second regression equation used
the Person ×Situation interactions to predict negative
emotional responses, controlling for prefeedback emo-
tion ratings: approval versus rejection, t(81) =2.03, p<
.05, and control versus rejection, t(81) =1.79, p<.07;
the lower the baseline DHEAS, the greater the negative
emotional response following social rejection feedback.
The last regression equation predicted creativity scores
using the Person ×Situation interaction and negative
emotional responses (mediator). Increased negative
emotional responses predicted greater creativity scores,
t(80) =2.54, p<.02, and the direct relationship between
the Person ×Situation interactions and creativity were
significantly reduced once negative emotional responses
were included in the model: approval versus rejection,
t(80) =2.11 p<.04, Goodman test, 2.11, p<.04; and
6PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
Figure 1 Relationships between dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate
(DHEAS) and negative affect by feedback condition, con-
trolling for pretask emotions.
NOTE: Slopes are reported as standardized betas (β).
*p<.05.
Figure 2 Relationships between dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate
(DHEAS) and creativity by feedback condition, controlling
for pretask emotions.
NOTE: Slopes are reported as standardized betas (β).
*p<.05.
control versus rejection, t(80) =1.92, p<.058,
Goodman test, 1.81, p<.07.
DISCUSSION
This experiment yielded four noteworthy findings.
First, we found that lower levels of DHEAS resulted in
greater affective vulnerability. When participants
received rejecting social feedback, lower DHEAS was
significantly correlated with greater negative emotional
responses. DHEAS was not related to negative emo-
tional responses following the social approval or non-
feedback conditions. This finding demonstrates support
for the use of DHEAS as an indicator of affective vul-
nerability (see also Mendes, Ayduk, Akinola, & Epel,
2008). The second important finding was that social
rejection resulted in greater artistic creativity than did
the social approval or nonsocial situations. We believe
that the use of a well-validated social task, which reli-
ably yields strong emotional reactions, may have pro-
vided a test of how creativity is affected in the face of
strong emotional manipulations eliciting activating
moods, as opposed to the weaker or more subtle mood
manipulations often employed (De Dreu et al., 2008;
Isen, 2000). We also observed evidence for the person-
by-situation model that we proposed. When individuals
were more biologically vulnerable and exposed to a
strong rejecting situation, they performed better on the
artistic creativity task. Finally, we showed that negative
emotional changes mediated the link between biological
vulnerability and creativity for those receiving rejecting
social feedback.
Research on how affect influences creativity suggests
several pathways through which creativity may be
enhanced. One possibility is that negative social evalua-
tion increased creativity because participants ruminated
more over negative feedback (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2000),
thus potentially creating more distraction during the
creative task. This distraction may have led to enhanced
creativity because unconscious thoughts could influence
the creative products without interference from con-
scious operations (Dijksterhuis & Meurs, 2006). The
other explanation, in stark contrast to the unconscious
thought facilitation explanation, is the possibility that
creativity was enhanced because negative emotions pro-
duced powerful introspection and detailed thinking
(Verhaeghen et al., 2005). Although these data were not
meant to address how conscious and unconscious
processes independently affect creativity, these data do
show strong effects for negative emotional responses
(both dispositionally and situationally) in enhancing
creativity.
Another possibility is that negative social evaluation
increased creativity because participants exerted more
effort and worked harder on the creativity task after
receiving negative feedback. Previous research has
shown that negative feedback can lead to increased
Akinola, Mendes / DARK SIDE OF CREATIVITY 7
Figure 3 Mediated-moderation analysis testing the mediating role of negative emotional responses (high negative and low positive affect) as a
causal factor of the Person ×Situation (P ×S) interaction and creativity scores.
NOTE: The outer path presents comparisons of social rejection to social approval; the inner path presents comparisons of social rejection to
the control condition. Paths are reported as standardized betas (β). Asterisks indicate a statistically significant relationship. DHEAS =
dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate.
p<.10. *p<.05. **p<.01.
subsequent effort (e.g., Anderson & Rodin, 1989;
Campion & Lord, 1982; Podsakoff & Farh, 1989), as
long as the task is not perceived as too difficult to be
mastered (Locke & Latham, 1990). This is consistent
with research indicating that when individuals experi-
ence negative affect in a situation that requires creativity,
this negative affect may be interpreted as a signal that
additional effort must be exerted for a creative solution
to be discovered (George & Zhou, 2002; Martin, Ward,
Achee, & Wyer, 1993). In contrast, positive mood cou-
pled with a situation that requires creativity may be an
indication that the creative goal has been met, reducing
the amount of effort exerted on the task.6
Importantly, our findings are consistent with vol-
umes of historical and empirical evidence relating
depression to creativity. Although the data presented
here provide support for the creativity and depression
link, this general model would not, necessarily, be sup-
portive of the proposed link between bipolar disorder
and creativity because lower levels of DHEA have been
linked to depression rather than to mania. In addition,
mania is not typically characterized by strong negative
emotional responses. Historical evidence suggests that
many creative luminaries suffered from depression, but
others suffered from bipolar disorder. One possibility
regarding how creativity is influenced by affective
changes due to bipolar disorder is that manic phases
may increase the quantity and not the quality of the cre-
ative work (Weisberg, 1994). Mania might also be
related to perceptions of how creative one believes one-
self is, which might differ from how creative the person
actually is. In support of this idea, Pronin and Wegner
(2006) manipulated “mania” with thought-racing
instructions and found that participants had more
grandiose thoughts, including perceptions of enhanced
creativity. Whether these participants actually were
capable of enhanced creativity is not known. It is possi-
ble that mania provides the perception of creativity,
which results in more attempts and hence increased pro-
ductivity, but depressed states provide the introspection
and careful deliberation that result in fewer but higher
quality products.
Although extant research has offered some evidence
for biological differences in creativity (Howard-Jones,
Blakemore, & Samuel, 2005; Martindale, 1999), we
believe our data demonstrate some of the first evidence
linking biological products and social and emotional
factors to predict complex behaviors such as creativity.
There is mounting evidence that depression is linked to
lower levels of DHEA and that DHEA supplementation
can combat depression, but this is the first study that we
know of that shows that lower baseline levels of DHEA
make individuals more vulnerable to experiencing neg-
ative affect following social rejection. Furthermore,
given this affective vulnerability, we showed that artistic
creativity was enhanced following the increased negative
mood state. Given the volumes of research on the links
between depression and creativity, these data provide
provocative evidence regarding possible underlying biolog-
ical mechanisms involved in the depression–creativity link.
NOTES
1. We also assayed for cortisol because basal cortisol levels have
also been linked to depression; however, we found no effects for cor-
tisol with any of the results reported here.
2. Two participants did not create collages. One discontinued
the experiment prior to being given instructions for the speech and
question-and-answer task, and the other discontinued after the speech
and question-and-answer task.
3. The Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults was rated on
five dimensions—creativity, originality, flexibility, elaboration, and
fluency—utilizing a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (low) to
5 (high). We examined interrater reliability on these five dimensions.
The judges’ agreement was acceptable across four of the five dimen-
sions (alphas ranged from .65 to .76); elaboration was not reliably
judged by the artists and thus dropped. We then examined reliability
across the four dimensions, which yielded an acceptable alpha as well
(α=.78) and thus created a single index of baseline creativity.
4. The following six variables did not load high on the first factor:
spontaneity, degree of representationalism, degree of symmetry,
expression, movement, and variation of shapes; thus, they were not
used in the creativity index. However, all analyses reported here were
repeated with the creativity index calculated with all 21 dimensions
(α=.94), and the results were essentially the same.
5. We did not control for baseline creativity in any of the analyses
examining artistic creativity, as baseline creativity was never a signif-
icant covariate and the results are essentially the same with or with-
out this covariate.
6. In order to explore the possibility that negative social evalua-
tion increased creativity because participants exerted more effort and
worked harder on the creativity task after receiving negative feedback,
we examined the amount of objective space used by participants in the
collages as a proxy for effort. Our rationale was that the less objective
space used in the collage, the greater the detail orientation, indicating
that more effort had been exerted by participants in creating the
collage. We hypothesized that participants who were lower in
dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate (DHEAS) and were assigned to social
rejection would use less objective space in their collages. In order to
measure the amount of objective space used in each collage, we took
photographs of each collage and used Adobe Photoshop to first cal-
culate the total number of pixels contained in each collage. We
defined this value as the total area of the collage. For each collage, we
then selected each object used in the collage (i.e., all of the felt and
paper pieces used) to determine the number of pixels contained in the
collage pieces, which we defined as the space covered in the collage.
We then subtracted space covered from the total area to determine the
number of pixels constituting white space in the collage, then calcu-
lated the amount of white space as a percentage of total space for each
collage. We then used this percentage of white space value as our
dependent variable of objective space, with higher percentages indi-
cating that less space was used in the collage (i.e., there was more
white space than covered space). We examined differences in objective
space by experimental condition and found no significant effect for
condition, F(2, 88) =.06, p=.94 (Mapproval =61.0, Mrejection =
62.2, Mcontrol =60.8). We also found no significant interaction
effect when we tested the interaction of DHEAS and feedback condi-
tion to predict white space: approval versus rejection, t(81) =0.30,
p =.76, and control versus rejection, t(81) =0.35, p =.72. Although we
found no support for our hypothesis, these results do not conclusively
eliminate the possibility that effort played a role in our findings.
8PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
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10 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
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Much evidence has been adduced to support the view, originally proposed by Kraepelin, that mania increases creativity Examples of supporting evidence are findings of similarity in thought between creative persons and manic-depressives and high creativity in normal relatives of manic-depressives However, such data are correlational and are therefore equivocal concerning the hypothesis that mania is a cause of increased creativity The present study analyzed the relationship between mood and productivity in the career of composer Robert Schumann, who has been diagnosed as bipolar Schumann's positive mood was related to increased quantity of his work but not to increased quality, indicating that mania did not increase creativity of thought processes
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The notion that mood disorder especially bipolarity, is causally related to creativity has a long history in psychology. However, much of the evidence adduced is correlational and subject to alternative interpretations in which affective disorders do not play a direct role. McDermott (2001) recently hypothesized that the poet Emily Dickinson had mood disorder specifically seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and hypomania. In the present study, Dickinson's creative productivity over the course of her career was examined to test the hypothesis that mood disorder affects creative thinking. Analyses of Dickinson's overall productivity, as well as seasonal variations in her productivity, support McDermott's division of her career Seasonal patterns in quality during SAD years supported the hypothesis that intense negative emotional experiences provided material for her creative activity. However the results provided only equivocal support for the hypothesis that Dickinson's bipolarity positively affected her creative process. Mediational regression analyses indicated that increased motivation associated with hypomania was related to enhanced quality of creative output. Furthermore, the residual relationship between Dickinson's affective state and the quality of her poetry-and, presumably, of her thinking-did not necessitate the conclusion that hypomania facilitated her creative process because goal attainment can trigger manic symptoms in individuals with bipolar disorder Thus, rather than bipolarity affecting creative thinking, creative work may precipitate mania.
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This article picks up on the suggestion made by Mumford that the relationship of affect to creativity is an important, new trend in the field. Fuel is added to this argument by pointing to evidence indicating that tasks of creative thinking may be particularly mood sensitive. The main stream argument that positive mood unconditionally and reliably facilitates creativity is characterized as a case of premature closure. Evidence is reviewed that calls this general thesis into serious question. It is concluded that creativity is a multifaceted construct, and that different moods are differentially related to different components of creative thinking.