How intense emotions affect our  creative focus

Recent research studies the link between creativity and emotional states, offering answers to the age-old question, "How can I be more creative?" 


The trope is that great artists feel more intensely than other people, but a 2013 recent study done by Australian researcher Eddie Harmon-Jones et al. suggests that the more intense the emotion, the less creative we are. Their conclusion? It doesn't matter if our feelings are positive or negative, they should be felt mildly, because when they are too intense, they narrow our focus.

What seems odd about that to me, though, is the exhaustive list of creative works that have been born out of the most extreme of emotions: I would doubt that Jackson Pollock or Sylvia Plath had “low motivational intensity" when they did their best work.

Scott Barry Kaufman, however, cites other research that indicates “There's something about living life with passion and intensity, including the full depth of human experience, that is conducive to creativity." That seems more accurate.

But what can we do, then, to increase states of creativity? Inducing states of both positive and negative emotions (“emotional ambivalence") is suggested, as is creating an environment that is unusual. This may be why you've never heard someone say, “Cubicles? That's where I do my best thinking!" and why companies in both tech and film curate quirky workspaces. If our brains go nuts for variety, it makes sense that we would need our stimuli randomized. What if you are not one of these fortunate people that work in a proudly too-cool office? Even small changes in your regular routine can make your brain light up like a Christmas tree. Stirring your coffee the opposite way, taking a different route to work, or changing up your routine can all lead to a more active and engaged brain.

There is no magic trick to make you more creative, and although there are steps we can take to cultivate these states, creativity may always be a tricky and elusive vixen. Eric Kandel, Nobel laureate and Columbia University professor of brain science, describes the "aha phenomenon" and speculates on ways that humans and groups can think more creatively.


Plants have awareness and intelligence, argue scientists

Research in plant neurobiology shows that plants have senses, intelligence and emotions.

Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • The field of plant neurobiology studies the complex behavior of plants.
  • Plants were found to have 15-20 senses, including many like humans.
  • Some argue that plants may have awareness and intelligence, while detractors persist.
Keep reading Show less

Vaping changes blood vessels after one use, even without nicotine

E-cigarettes may be safer than traditional cigarettes, but they come with their own risks.


John Keeble
/GETTY
Surprising Science
  • A new study used an MRI machine to examine how vaping e-cigarettes affects users' cardiovascular systems immediately after inhalation.
  • The results showed that vaping causes impaired circulation, stiffer arteries and less oxygen in their blood.
  • The new study adds to a growing body of research showing that e-cigarettes – while likely safer than traditional cigarettes – are far from harmless.
Keep reading Show less

Space is dead: A challenge to the standard model of quantum mechanics

Since the idea of locality is dead, space itself may not be an aloof vacuum: Something welds things together, even at great distances.

Videos
  • Realists believe that there is an exactly understandable way the world is — one that describes processes independent of our intervention. Anti-realists, however, believe realism is too ambitious — too hard. They believe we pragmatically describe our interactions with nature — not truths that are independent of us.
  • In nature, properties of Particle B may be depend on what we choose to measure or manipulate with Particle A, even at great distances.
  • In quantum mechanics, there is no explanation for this. "It just comes out that way," says Smolin. Realists struggle with this because it would imply certain things can travel faster than light, which still seems improbable.
Keep reading Show less