Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Art and Sadness

In the long-running discussion about the relationship between melancholy and creativity (Keats: “Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?”) a new study showing that people who got negative feedback on a speech, and were therefore in worse moods, made collages that were evaluated as better and more creative than those made by people who received positive feedback. Jonah Lehrer:
What’s driving this correlation? Why does a melancholy mood turn us into a better artist? The answer returns us to the intertwined nature of emotion and cognition. It turns out that states of sadness make us more attentive and detail oriented, more focused on the felt collage. Joe Forgas, a social psychologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, has spent the last decade investigating the surprising benefits of negative moods. According to Forgas, angst and sadness promote “information-processing strategies best suited to dealing with more-demanding situations.” This helps explain why test subjects who are melancholy — Forgas induces the mood with a short film about death and cancer — are better at judging the accuracy of rumors and recalling past events; they’re also much less likely to stereotype strangers and make fewer arithmetic mistakes.

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