In Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman comments on research studying people’s mood and cognitive performance. He writes the following about how we think when we are in a good mood, “when in a good mood, people become more intuitive and more creative but also less vigilant and more prone to logical errors.”
We think differently when we are in different moods. When we are relaxed and happy, our minds are more creative and our intuitions tend to be more accurate. Kahneman suggests that when we are happy and when we don’t sense threats, our rational and logical part of the brain lets up, allowing our mind to flow more freely. When we are not worried about our safety, our mind doesn’t have to examine and interrogate everything in our environment as thoroughly, hence the tendency toward logical errors. A sense of threat activates our deep thinking, making us more logical, but also diminishing the capacity of our intuitive thinking and making us less creative, less willing to take risks with our ideas and thoughts.
The research from Kahneman about mood, creativity, and cognitive errors reminds me of the research Daniel Pink shares in his book When. Pink finds that we tend to be more creative in the afternoons, once our affect has recovered from the afternoon trough when we all need a nap. Once our mood has improved toward the end of the day, Pink suggest that we are more creative. Our minds are able to return to important cognitive work, but are still easily distracted, allowing for more creative thinking. This seems to tie in with the research from Kahneman. We become more relaxed, and are willing to let ideas flow across the logical boundaries that had previously separated ideas and categories of thought in our minds.
It is important that we think about our mood and the tasks we have at hand. If we need to do creative work, we should save it for the afternoon, when our moods improve and we have more capacity for drawing on previously disconnected thoughts and ideas in new ways. We shouldn’t try to cram work that requires logical coherence into times when we are happy and bubbly, our minds simply won’t be operating in the right way to handle the task. When we do work is as important as the mood we bring to work, and both the when and the mood may seriously impact the output.