The larger story here is about the surprising benefits of negative moods. While sad subjects in this new study underperformed on the creative generation task, previous research has demonstrated that sadness increases creative persistence, allowing subjects to work harder for extended periods of time. (In other words, melancholy is bad in the short-term, but good for the long haul.)

Consider a recent paper, “The Dark Side of Creativity,” led by Modupe Akinola. The setup was very c clever: she asked subjects to give a short speech about their dream job. The students were randomly assigned to either a positive or negative feedback condition, in which their speech was greeted with smiles and vertical nods (positive) or frowns and horizontal shakes (negative). After the speech was over, the subjects were given glue, paper and colored felt and told to make a collage using the materials. Professional artists then evaluated each collage according to various metrics of creativity. Not surprisingly, the feedback impacted the mood of the subjects: Those who received smiles during their speeches reported feeling better than before, while frowns had the opposite effect. What’s interesting is what happened next: Subjects in the negative feedback condition created much prettier collages. Their angst led to better art. As Akinola notes, this is largely because the sadness improved their focus, and made them more likely to persist with the creative challenge.