Research has shown that happy moods foster creativity, or the ability to think about problems in new ways (e.g., Isen, 1999), but what happens to creative problem solving when people are in sad moods? We examined the hypothesis that sad moods may lead individuals to be cautious. This sense of cautiousness may result in them adhering to the data and not thinking about problems in new ways until they receive data indicating that it is appropriate to do so. To investigate this hypothesis, we induced happy, sad, and neutral moods in three different groups of participants, and then had them complete Luchins' (1942) classic mental set task.
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Participants in all three mood conditions broke the mental set, mood affected when they did so. Participants in the happy mood condition abandoned the mental set earlier on in the task than participants in the sad mood condition. Specifically, participants in the sad mood condition continued to use the mental set to solve the task until they reached the "geeze" problem. This problem indicated that the mental set does not always work and that new ways of solving the problem are acceptable, encouraging people in sad moods to break the mental set.
For more information, please see
Gasper, K. (2003). When necessity is the mother of invention: Mood and problem solving. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39, 248-262.
Gasper, K. (2004). Permission to seek freely? The effect of happy and sad moods on generating old and new ideas. The Creativity Research Journal, 16, 215 – 229.
Isen, A. M. (1999). On the relationship between affect and creative problem solving. In S.W. Russ (Ed.), Affect, creative experience, and psychological adjustment (pp. 3-17). Taylor & Francis, Philadelphia, PA, pp. 3–17.
Luchins, A. S. (1942). Mechanization in problem solving: The effect of Einstellung. Psychological Monographs, 54(6), 1-95.