The Role of Negative Emotions in Divergent Thinking

Conference: The European Conference on Education (ECE2022)
Title: The Role of Negative Emotions in Divergent Thinking
Stream: Mind, Brain & Psychology: Human Emotional & Cognitive Development & Outcomes within Educational Contexts
Presentation Type: Poster Presentation
Cecilia Cheung, University of California, Riverside, United States


Two studies explored the implications of negative emotions for divergent thinking among early adolescence. While positive emotions have been theorized to contribute to creativity, scant research examined the role of negative emotions. It is possible that the experience of negative emotions (e.g., sadness) focuses individuals’ attention to the task at hand and dampens distractions, thereby supporting the generation of creative solutions in a learning context. Study 1 (N= 97; age range: 10-14) utilized an experimental approach to manipulate early adolescents’ experience of emotions. Following a mood induction paradigm, participants were randomly assigned into one of three conditions where they watched a happy, sad, or emotionally neutral video. Participants then completed an array of divergent thinking tasks. Study 2 (N= 109; age range: 11-14) utilized a longitudinal design to track changes in early adolescents’ self-reported emotional experiences and their divergent thinking over a 1-year period. Participants in both studies were recruited from middle schools and summer programs in Southern California, USA. Participants were ethnic-racially and socioeconomically diverse. Results from Study 1 indicated that early adolescents’ self-reported negative emotions were positively associated with divergent thinking only after participants watched a sad movie. Findings from Study 2 supported those of Study 1: Self-reported negative emotions (at Time 1) predicted divergent thinking (at Time 2) when participants experienced sadness as they completed the divergent thinking tasks (at Time 2). Taken together, findings suggest that consistency between early adolescents’ emotional experiences and the emotional climate characteristic of their immediate environment may support divergent thinking.

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