According to the research – we are at our most open minded and creative when our thoughts are in disharmony with our body. So for example, if we are feeling happy yet pulling a frown, we are in a more creative mind set than when our expressions honestly represent our mood.
I shall explain one of the ways psychologists have come to this conclusion… (I realise you’re dying to know!)
Participants in a research experiment were either asked to think of an emotional event (positive or negative) whilst performing the opposite associated expression (frown or smile) or they were asked to be consistent in their thoughts and expressions. They were then asked to rate how well a certain object fits to the ‘ideal’ of that object type – for example, how well an ‘elephant’ fits the concept of ‘vehicle’.
They found that those who were experiencing dissonance (incongruent thoughts and expressions) said that the examples were more typical of the concept type than those who were consistent.
So people who are not in tune are more open minded?
We also know however, that experiencing cognitive dissonance generally leads to negative behavioural effects… Though when it comes to the effect on ‘creativity’ as a single case, it is less clear.
So I started thinking about some of the creative minds well known in the media. Then for some reason my mind moved on to comedy writers and performers, and I noted that often, arguably the best writers and comedians are likely to have experienced this type of dissonance at some point in their careers.
Take for example, Stephen Fry and John Cleese. Both highly respected as comedy writers and performers -both also suffering from well documented episodes of depression.
Now I’m not saying that we all need to be depressed to get anywhere creatively.
But the research is interesting all the same – and perhaps when next time you think you’re not in the ‘right frame of mind’ to be creative – maybe you’ll surprise yourself.