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Angry art: Kenneth Anger, Scarlet Woman (Margorie Cameron), 1954-1966
Angry art: Kenneth Anger, Scarlet Woman (Margorie Cameron), 1954-1966


Aug. 30, 2011

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It’s called “mad genius” for a reason. A new study from the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology argues that anger makes us more creative. Researchers provoked anger in participants in a series of experiments and found that those who were agitated tended to think in “less systematic and structured” ways. They also tended to generate more original ideas when asked to complete a problem-solving task (the criterion being that less than one percent of other participants came up with the same idea).

Jonah Lehrer at Wired pointed out that this research is just the latest in a growing body of literature that highlights the potentially positive effects of bad moods. Another recent article, “The Dark Side of Creativity,” tested the impact of negative feedback on creativity. Participants in that study were asked to deliver a speech about their career dreams to an audience that was either supportive (people nodded their heads and smiled) or unsupportive (people frowned and shook their heads). Afterward, the speakers each made a collage, judged on its creativity by a team of “professional artists.” The conclusion the researchers came to is a fairly logical one: negative feedback makes us think we need to work harder.

But, there’s a caveat to the benefits of rage. It tends to spur a burst of creative energy, but then diminishes mental resources and fizzles out fast. Sadness, on the other hand, has a stronger ability to sustain itself. Which is pretty depressing.

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