Music hath charms to stimulate creativity


Employers take note – listening to happy music may help generate more innovative ideas.

So say the authors of a new study snappily title Happy creativity: Listening to happy music facilitates divergent thinking.

Technology is a key driver in the innovation race dominating many traditional and emerging industries, requiring greater knowledge of ways to stimulate creativity.

“Creativity is the process of generating new ideas and being able to develop them into imaginative solutions,” says Dr Sam Ferguson, co-author, and Co-Director of the Creativity and Cognition Studios (CCS) located in the Faculty of Engineering and IT, University of Technology Sydney.

The research by Ferguson and lead author Simone Ritter, Radboud University, The Netherlands, studied the affect on creative cognition of listening to different types of music.

In their investigation 155 participants completed questionnaires and were divided into experimental groups to listen to one of four types of music categorised as calm, happy, sad, or anxious, depending on their emotional valence (positive, negative) and arousal (high, low).

A control group listened to silence.

Cognitive tasks

While listening to music, participants performed various cognitive tasks to test divergent and convergent creative thinking: divergent thinking involves producing multiple answers with unexpected combinations, recognising links among remote associates or transforming information into unexpected forms.

Convergent thinking emphasises accuracy and logic, and applies conventional search, recognition and decision-making strategies.

Participants who developed the most original and useful solutions to a task scored higher in divergent creativity, while participants who developed the single best possible solution to a task scored higher in convergent creativity.

“We found that listening to ‘happy music’, that is, classical music that is positive valence and high in arousal, facilitates more divergent creative thinking compared to silence,” says Ferguson.

The variables involved in the happy music condition may enhance flexibility in thinking, so that the participant can consider solutions that may not have occurred to them as readily if they were performing the task in silence.”

The authors suggest that their study may demonstrate that music listening could promote creative thinking in inexpensive and efficient ways in various scientific, educational and organisational settings.