ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2021, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (5): 815-826.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2021.00815

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The impact of threats on creativity based on cognitive and emotional processes

YIN Junting1, WANG Guan2(), LUO Junlong1()   

  1. 1Department of Psychology, Shanghai Normal University, Shanghai 200234, China
    2College of Education Science, Huaiyin Normal University, Huaian 223300, China
  • Received:2020-07-31 Online:2021-05-15 Published:2021-03-30
  • Contact: WANG Guan,LUO Junlong;


Threats are stimuli that may cause disgust, harm, or loss to individuals. These stimuli have not yet occurred but are foreseeable. They can easily induce negative emotions, such as anxiety and fear, and affect an individual’s cognitive ability and creativity. Creativity is the ability that an individual can take initiative to create novel (i.e. original and unexpected) and useful products with social value for a certain purpose.  
The impact of threats on creativity is one of the concerned and controversial topics in the field of psychology. Currently, there are three viewpoints: threats can hinder creativity generally; threats can promote creativity; in some certain conditions, there is an inverted U-shaped relationship between threats and creativity to illustrate how different levels of threats affect creativity. There are plenty of theoretical and empirical studies supporting these three viewpoints respectively. However, why these three viewpoints exist and what their divergence and their underlying mechanisms are still unclear. Through scanning through a considerable amount of studies, it is found that a reasonable perspective for understanding the relationship between the two can be provided by studying the distinction and connection between cognition and emotion. The distinction and connection between cognition and emotion can provide a reasonable perspective for understanding the relationship between them. Therefore, based on comparing and summarizing previous studies, this review explored the reasons for the divergence and reviewed them from the perspectives of cognition and emotion. As a result, it is found that divergence comes from the differences in threat levels, creativity mechanisms, creativity task difficulties, and additional mediator/modulator variables between threat and creativity. Specifically, High-level and low-level threats can attract individual’s different levels of attention and take up different amounts of cognitive resources, thus have different impacts on other following tasks. The difference in creativity mechanisms reflects in the difference between divergent thinking and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is that people produce as many solutions to the problems of vague definition as possible. Whereas convergent thinking is that people rely on quick identification of the clearly defined the problem to find the best solution. Divergent thinking depends on cognitive flexibility more, while convergent thinking prefers to depend on cognitive persistence. When Individuals are facing different tasks, the demands for working memory are different. Compared with simple tasks, complex tasks have higher requirements on the participation of the working memory system, and at the same time they take up more cognitive resources, Therefore, individuals faced with complex tasks may bring worse performance than those faced with simple tasks. In addition, the different mediating/moderating variables between threat and creativity may have different or even opposite effects on the creativity tasks.
For future researches, they can focus on systematically verifying the reasons for the divergence from the perspectives of cognitive and emotional intervention. Specifically, future researchers can explore the impact of different levels of threats on individual’s divergent and convergent thinking. In addition, it is necessary to explore the possible mediating/modulating variables (such as emotion regulation, self-affirmation, etc.) and find out how these variables affect the relationship between threats and creativity. Furthermore, the research on the relationship between threat and creativity should pay attention to the inverted U-shaped model and they can start with studying the balance of motivation and emotion, and then explore the critical point in the inverted U-shaped curve. In addition, when exploring the above issues, the best way is to try to combine different brain imaging technologies to thoroughly investigate the role of many brain areas that are responsible for threat information processing and emotions, and the functional links between these brain areas to explore the impact of threats on creativity. Finally, the cognitive neuroscience can be combined with gene mechanisms to explore the relationship between threat and creativity and clarify the nature of the problem.

Key words: threat, creativity, cognition, emotion

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