The reverse psychology of shunning creativity

I think I was raised in the Lawyer, Doctor, Engineer and yeah okay, Teacher era. These professions were considered normal and normal was good, it meant you were normal. Today however, creativity is growing in popularity, even envied and appreciated as a necessary process for change and innovation not just deciding which paint colours to squirt on our palettes.

Matthijs, De Dreu & Nijstad (2011) comprehensively studied how the role of mood states, expectations and end goals can influence the level of creativity achieved. At the risk of over simplifying their findings, the emotions that provide arousal over a relaxed or neutral state will increase creativity. In other words, excitement, anger, frustration, anxiety, cheerfulness and eagerness will initiate a higher creative potential as opposed to being relaxed, chilled or sad. Of relevance, what will squander your creative potential is relief (considered a prevention-focused state). In fact, Akinola and Mendes (2008) found that participants who received positive feedback during and after delivering a public speech felt relief, which likely inhibited their creative performance on an artistic task following their speech. Comparatively, the students who received negative feedback felt increased anxiety believed to have positively influenced the participants’ artistic performance on the same task.

So what do we do with this knowledge? Do we only provide negative feedback to stimulate emotional states that are friendly to creativity, particularly anything to avoid relief, like adopting reverse psychology perhaps? Are those providing the supportive and positive feedback taking a less noble path by squandering innovation to be viewed as polite?

Regardless of the answers to the questions above, I believe creativity has to be first and foremost, a function of seeking intrinsic satisfaction and the degree to which this is achieved will be the degree that positive or negative feedback will not hinder potential. Now I have given myself and anyone who chooses, a reason to say ‘stuff you’ for the sake of creativity.

Okay, I’m getting a little carried away here. I guess we all have a purpose, I just never thought the ‘practicals’, who seem fearful of anything abstract, are actually promoting creativity because without even knowing it, they are and have been practising good reverse psychology.

So in this day and age, where a larger minority than previously admires creativity, let us embrace the diminishing breed of the ‘practical tribe’ so this reverse psychology can continue to serve its purpose, which is to stimulate the arousal of the sensitive type.


Akinola, M., & Mendes, W.B. (2008). The dark side of creativity: Biological vulnerability and negative emotions lead to greater artistic creativity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1677-1686. doi: 10.1177/0146167208323933

Matthijs, B., De Dreu, C., and Nijstad, B.A. (2011). When prevention promotes creativity: The role of mood, regulatory focus, and regulatory closure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 794-809. doi: 10.1037/a0022981

Before I go, I have been going through a ‘copy the masters’ phase and Degas has been the focus of my obsession of late. Degas has been a favourite of mine since before I knew what charcoal was thanks to my mothers books. I think I will write a post about him next because I need to pop the lid on this all consuming Degas love that I have …until then, here are some copies. I will include the title so you can search for the original if you like, you must actually.

Copy of Standing female nude by Degas

Copy of Standing female nude by Degas

Copy of Recumbent seminude woman by Degas

Copy of Recumbent seminude woman by Degas

The following information will help in your search for the originals:

Standing female nude. 1865. Charcoal and sanguine (red crayon). Study for The Sorrows of the City of Orleans.

Recumbent seminude woman. 1865. Crayon. Study for The Sorrows of the City of Orleans


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