The Influence of Approach and Avoidance Motor Actions on Creative Cognition (Fragment)

Ronald S. Friedman University of Maryland–College Park And Jens Fo¨rster Universita¨t Wu¨rzburg, Germany


This study tested whether internal nonaffective processing cues independently influence two major varieties of creative cognition: insight problem solving and creative generation. In Experiments 1 and 2, bodily cues associated with positive or negative hedonic states were manipulated by means of arm flexor or extensor contraction, respectively, and the effects of these internal cues on creative insight and generation were observed. In line with our cognitive tuning approach, it was predicted that the “riskier,” more explorative processing style elicited by arm flexion, relative to the more risk-averse, perseverant processing style elicited by arm extension, would facilitate performance on both tasks. These predictions were strongly supported. In addition, Experiments 3 and 4 provided the first direct evidence that the effects of these internal processing cues on creativity are mediated by a memory search-based mechanism. Reported effects were independent of mood, task enjoyment, and the effortfulness of the motor actions.

In the continuing investigation of the relationship between affect and creativity, a great deal of evidence has been adduced in support of the notion that positive affect, relative to negative or neutral affect, facilitates creative problem solving (e.g., Isen, Daubman, & Nowicki, 1987) and bolsters cognitive flexibility (e.g., Isen & Daubman, 1984; Murray, Sujan, Hirt, & Sujan, 1990; for a review, see Hirt, McDonald, & Melton, 1996). An especially parsimonious explanation for this pattern of findings has been proposed by Schwarz and Bless (Schwarz, 1990; Schwarz & Bless, 1991). According to their cognitive tuning theory, affective states serve to inform individuals as to the nature of their current environment. Positive affective states inform individuals that their current environment is benign and that no particular course of action is required. In response to this information, individuals in a positive affective state are posited to become more agreeable to risk taking, adopting a relatively heuristic processing style (cf. Isen, 1987) in which novel alternatives are more likely to be generated (cf. Fiedler, 1988), thereby enhancing creativity.