A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that positive moods foster creative thought…People in a positive mood tend to be better at absorbing information and are more creative, while people in a negative mood are better at focusing their attention on details. This translates into a few recommendations. When you’re having a difficult time solving a problem, it may be wiser to walk away for awhile and distract yourself with something positive, rather than continuing to work in your current state. A positive distraction can create a more open-minded approach.
Conversely, a more negative mood can help to provoke the intense concentration necessary to actually execute the great ideas you’ve formulated. Deadlines, for example, are great for producing the kind of acute anxiety that ‘gets things done’. This has implications for how projects are structured. At the beginning of a project, it may be wise to focus less on deadlines and keep things positive, to encourage more open, conceptual and creative thought.
Anyone who has read Don Norman‘s book, Emotional Design, will already be familiar with these ideas. In fact, these ideas are at the basis of many of the applications of emotion to design. Folks in marketing circles, for example, have known this for a long time. A quote from an article in the Edmonton Journal on this story provides a good summary of this idea:
“If attention is like a spotlight, then a good mood will widen that spotlight, while a negative mood will focus it very tightly.”
For more on emotional affect, check out:
2. The Influence of Emotional Affect