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A Good Mood May Be Secret to Creativity

Study Shows Getting Into a Positive Mood May Enhance Problem-Solving Skills

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 17, 2010 -- It may be a good idea to get into a good mood before tackling a tricky task. A good mood may help boost your problem-solving skills and let you think more creatively, a new study suggests.

And putting yourself into a good mood may be as easy as watching a funny video or listening to music by Mozart, according to researchers at the University of Western Ontario.

"Generally, positive mood has been found to enhance creative problem solving and flexible yet careful thinking," study researcher Ruby Nadler, a graduate student at UWO, says in a news release.

The study, which she carried out with colleagues Rahel Rabi and John Paul Minda, is published in the December 2010 issue of Psychological Science.

Manipulating Moods

The researchers looked at a particular kind of learning that is improved by creative thinking.

Eighty-seven student volunteers -- 61 females and 26 males -- were put into different moods and given a learning task to perform, such as classifying sets of pictures with visually complex patterns.

Moods were manipulated with the help of music snippets and video clips. The researchers first tried out several types on graduate students who were not participating in the experiment to get a good handle on what might induce happiness, sadness, or neutral feelings in the participants.

A peppy Mozart piece, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik-Allegro, turned out to be the music that lifted moods the most; watching a video of a giggling baby also had a happy effect.

Watching the TV program Antiques Roadshow left volunteers feeling neutral, as did a report on the importance of sleep, as well as a recording of an instrumental piece of music. A news video on a Chinese earthquake left people with negative feelings. So did music from the Holocaust movie Schindler's List.

Improvement in Learning

Participants who were put into positive moods did better at learning a rule to classify the patterns than participants with a negative or neutral mood.

Music is a quick and easy way to induce a good mood, Nadler says, but not everyone smiles when they hear Mozart. She advises people to figure out what music makes them happy.

"If you have a project where you want to think innovatively, or you have a problem to carefully consider, being in a positive mood can help you do that," Nadler says.

Though people who watch funny videos on the job may think they're just killing time, they may be inducing a happy mood before tackling a difficult task, she theorizes.

"I think people are unconsciously trying to put themselves in a positive mood," she says.

SOURCES: News release, Association for Psychological Science.Nadler, R. Psychological Science, December 2010.

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