Active Mood States Encourage Creativity

It has long been speculated that mood and creativity are linked. But there is little research examining how creative process engagement (CPE) affects creativity outcomes. Although there is some evidence of how mood affects immediate creative expression, few studies have looked at how one’s mood and CPE affects the creative outcome over the long-term. To address these gaps, March L. To, from the University of Queensland School of Business, led a study exploring mood and creativity. “We also take a within-person approach, investigating the concurrent and lagged relationships between activating and deactivating momentary moods and CPE among individuals working on a long-term project requiring creativity.”

The team evaluated surveys from 30 doctoral students, ranging in age from 21 – 53 years old. The participants were instructed to fill out the surveys several times a day over a ten day period, while they worked on a creative project assigned by their supervisor. They were asked to list their goal orientation and the amount of support they felt they were receiving, as well as their moods. The researchers found a significant variance for the in-person CPE. Additionally, they found a direct link between support, goal orientation and creativity with relation to mood. “Affect and creativity researchers traditionally concentrated on the effects of induced mood valence on creativity, but have largely overlooked the effects of mood activation,” said To. Another interesting finding was that the participants were more creative during active mood states, regardless of whether they were negative or positive. To said, “The task in the current study, being long-term, serious, and performance-oriented, was precisely the type of setting in which beneficial effects of negative activating mood might be expected as a result of increased focus, effort, and persistence.” In conclusion, To added, “Managers or project leaders should encourage activated positive moods for concurrent CPE, and provide employees in activating mood states, especially negative ones, with adequate time for incubation and exploration so that their focused and persistent efforts have time to bear fruit.”

To, M. L., Fisher, C. D., Ashkanasy, N. M., & Rowe, P. A. (2011, October 31). Within-Person Relationships Between Mood and Creativity. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026097

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Janna


    November 7th, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    I find this kind of curious because for me this is true but I have never met others who felt the same way. When my mood and feelings are super strong, regardless of whether they are positive or negative that is when I get the most energy flowing and those creative juices get to flowing. Almost like therapy in a way.

  • julia m

    julia m

    November 7th, 2011 at 11:52 PM

    well for me a bad mood is like a blanket on my creative sense and there is not much work I can do while in a bad mood.its almost as if I’m not productive to the world while in a bad mood ;)

  • Kelvin


    November 8th, 2011 at 5:17 PM

    Sometimes the anger of a bad mood can really spur you on and drive some really creative trains of thought. You have to feed on what you have got to work with at that point in time.

  • R.el.Robbin


    November 9th, 2011 at 1:24 PM

    @Janna:Its interesting to know you find yourself to be creative even in low moods.I can never bring myself to do anything creative while my mood is off.Interesting how things can be so different for different people.

    And a question to the experts-If our mood can influence our creative abilities, then is it not true that we can control our creative flow by surrounding ourselves with things that are sure to elevate our moods?

  • Isabel Breckenridge

    Isabel Breckenridge

    November 10th, 2011 at 3:24 PM

    I love to write. When I’m stressed I cannot create much more than a shopping list, never mind write LOL. Your mind needs space to exercise your mental muscles. Being overloaded doesn’t allow you that space so you experience creative blocks. The only way to prevent that is to be conscious of making room for the creative spark by giving yourself breathing space.

  • Robert Smith

    Robert Smith

    November 10th, 2011 at 5:13 PM

    It can be hard to write fiction if you’re not in the right mood. Try writing something upbeat and utopian while in a bad mood and it’s near impossible. The mood you’re in has a large impact on what your capabilities are in all facets of life.

  • Francis McGregor

    Francis McGregor

    November 10th, 2011 at 5:50 PM

    @Robert Smith: Your mood can just make you think you honestly don’t give a you-know-what about your writing in the worst of cases, or even have you destroy what you have written already. It’s commonsense really. Your mood having an effect on your work ethic isn’t exactly the most groundbreaking discovery.

  • Ewan Hollis

    Ewan Hollis

    November 10th, 2011 at 7:14 PM

    Well gee, your mood has an influence on how well you can strive to accomplish your goals. I would never have thought of that. I thought that my work being behind wasn’t related to depression until now. Really? I could come up with such a simple conclusion from all the times I have heard others say “I’m not in the mood” or “I don’t feel like it”. Why do these things warrant any form of a study?

  • themuse


    November 11th, 2011 at 3:24 PM

    “Another interesting finding was that the participants were more creative during active mood states, regardless of whether they were negative or positive. ”

    Very good point! How many creatives have produced their best work when in moments of rage, madness or passion? Weak emotions translate into weak art forms, regardless of whether it’s created by pen, paintbrush, or your bare hands.

  • Darryl Raymond

    Darryl Raymond

    November 11th, 2011 at 4:26 PM

    “Weak emotions translate into weak art forms…” I agree, themuse! I have a theory that strong emotions bring powerful energy transference to the piece itself. Watch a concert performed by any great classical pianist and you can practically see the energy exuding from every fingertip.

  • Bobby Henson

    Bobby Henson

    November 11th, 2011 at 5:44 PM

    You don’t always need to have a sunny disposition to be creative. It can be cathartic to write when you’re in a negative frame of mind. We all understand the power of journaling. It helps us clarify our thoughts and release pent-up emotions, good and bad. I’ve written some of my best pieces when I’ve been filled with anger, joy or despair.

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