Laugh your Way to Creativity

Inducing Positive Affect Increases Creativity

Can laughter really be the best medicine for creativity? Research indicates that it is. It appears that laughter and other activities that induce a positive affect enhance our creative abilities.

Positive Affect

Positive Affect is a term used to describe the experience of feeling a positive emotion. From that definition, it seems obvious that engaging in activities that induce a positive affect is good in general terms. But many studies have shown that positive affect facilitates creativity, cognitive flexibility, innovative responses, and openness to information. With so many beneficial effects, are there ways we can induce positive affects in our daily lives?

Comedy, Candy, and Compliments

Alice M. Isen was a psychologist who conducted several experiments to understand the impact positive affect had on cognitive abilities. In her experiments, Alice Isen was able to induce positive affect in randomly assigned subjects by either showing them 5 minutes of a comedy film or presenting them with candy as a sign of gratitude for their participation in the experiment. In other studies, Alice M. Isen found that positive affect was induced in doctors that received compliments on their competencies as professionals. When positive affect was induced in the assigned subjects, their performance on difficult and cognitively demanding tasks improved and they tended to combine material in new ways. For the doctors in particular, positive effect resulted in a more humanistic orientation to the practice of medicine and made them more open and flexible in considering information that may have important implications for the situation.

From these studies it was established that creativity could be fostered by modifications in our physical and interpersonal environment.

With this understanding, one should be aware that there are varying degrees of positive affects, which have divergent impacts on creativity.

Taking the Low Approach to Creativity

Positive affects have been found to have varying degrees in motivational intensity. The positive affects that have been described until now are classified as low in approach motivation. These are positive states that occur after a goal has been accomplished or they induce states that are irrelevant to any goal in particular. However, there is a class of positive affective states that is higher in approach motivation, and they often occur in individuals striving for desired goals. It has been found that positive affective states that are high in approach motivation may hinder creative thinking.

Individuals that watched a comedy clip, received candy, or received compliments experienced low approach motivational positive states. These individuals exhibited a broaden attentional and cognitive scope in finding creative solutions to problems. Positive states high in approach motivation were induced by showing individuals clips of delicious looking deserts they were told they would receive after finishing the experiment. These individuals had narrower cognitive scope in their approach to problems, making them focus on the local elements they believed would help them obtain their goals, which in this case was the desert.

Now, positive states that are high in approach motivation do have their benefits. Individuals that experienced high approach motivational positive states were less susceptible to distractions than those experiencing low approach motivational states. So, depending on the task, a balance between low and high approach motivational states may have to be found.

Bottom Line: Prior to engaging in a task that will require a creative thought process try inducing a positive affect with a low motivational approach. If you are working on your own, engage in something that amuses you (i.e. watch 5 minutes of comedy or read a book you enjoy). If you are working in a team, present them with a treat as a sign of gratitude or compliment them on their skills and abilities. Since I don’t know you well enough to give you candies or compliments, I thought I would leave with with two videos that still make me laugh out loud.


A golden oldie.

I can’t stop watching this for some reason.

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