Creativity, Depression and Anger

September 11, 2011

[A]nger … triggers a less systematic and structured approach to the creativity task, and leads to initially higher levels of creativity. … [However] creative performance should decline over time more for angry than for sad people.

— Bass et al (2011): Creative production by angry people peaks early on, decreases over time, and is relatively unstructured

Here are a couple of studies on the interaction between negative emotions and creativity whose implications require some very careful consideration. We want to encourage creativity, but how and at what cost to the student?

Social rejection was associated with greater artistic creativity

— Akinola and Mendes (2011): The Dark Side of Creativity: Biological Vulnerability and Negative Emotions Lead to Greater Artistic Creativity


Anger, it appears, leads to more unstructured thinking, thinking that is more flexible and able to make new connections among different categories of information. However, anger’s creativity boost does not last that long – strong emotions take a toll – and people soon revert back to a more normal baseline.

These results come from an initial study, and there are a lot of unanswered questions. In particular, I wonder just how much anger is useful for this beneficial outcome. I find it hard to believe that too much anger is terrible useful. And, I’m also curious about the negative consequences in terms of group interactions. Brett Ford points out that some studies have found that anger is useful in negotiation, but only when that negotiation is confrontational. Another study found that angry leaders were better at motivating groups of less agreeable people. Conversely, more agreeable people responded better to less angry leaders.

In a scenario study, participants with lower levels of agreeableness responded more favorably to an angry leader, whereas participants with higher levels of agreeableness responded more favorably to a neutral leader.

— Kleef et al. (2010): On Angry Leaders and Agreeable Followers
How Leaders’ Emotions and Followers’ Personalities Shape Motivation and Team Performance

It seems that the ability to project anger may be a useful skill to have in one’s toolbox, given the variety of people we will have to deal with in life.

Depression and Creativity

Modupe Akinola and Wendy Berry Mendes point out that highly creative people tend to introversion, emotional sensitivity and, at the extreme, depression and other mood disorders. Unfortunately:

[M]ood disorders are 8 to 10 times more prevalent in writers and artists than in the general population (Jamison, 1993).

— Akinola and Mendes (2011): The Dark Side of Creativity

On top of the general mood, strong, more transient, activating moods, like anger and happiness, also affect a person’s ability to be creative. Both positive and negative activating moods (the hedonic tone) enhance creativity, but in different ways:

  • negative activating moods, like anger and fear, increase perseverance;
  • positive activating moods, like happiness and elatedness, increase mental flexibility.

Curiously enough, although creativity is associated with a baseline of sadness and depression, these two are not among the activating moods that can spur the creativity of the moment.

A Matter of Control

The implications of these studies are complex. I certainly need to think about them a lot more, but it would seem reasonable, or perhaps responsible, to encourage students to carefully monitor their moods and to help them better understand themselves and their behavior. Ultimately, it is probably better if we are able to control how we use our emotions, rather than the other way around.

The pre-frontal lobe, which is responsible for formal thinking, is the part of the brain that can put the brakes on impulsive emotional behavior. It can also, to a degree, modulate how emotions are expressed. As adolescents’ pre-frontal cortex develop, they should be better able to control and use their emotions to their benefit. But to do so, they need to be aware of their emotions and the power of their emotions, which would suggest training in emotional awareness and control.

I’m not aware of any programs or curricula that delve all the way into how to use your emotions proactively, but I’d like to see something that particularly discusses how to use the different activating moods.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Creativity, Depression and Anger, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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The Spirit of the Law

July 23, 2011

A You are the Ref strip by Paul Trevillion.

Every week, artist Paul Trevillon poses, in text and cartoon form, some truly idiosyncratic situations that might come up in a soccer match in his You are the Ref strip on the Guardian website. Readers get a week to propose their solutions and then referee Keith Hackett give his official answers.

It’s a fascinating series, the subtext of which is that, while there is a lot of minutiae to remember – the actual diameter of a soccer ball is important for one question – the game official is really out there to enforce the spirit of the laws, enabling fair and fluid play to the best of their ability. This is a useful lesson for adolescents who tend toward being extremely literal, and have to work on their abstract thinking skills, especially when they relate to questions of justice. For this reason, I find that when refereeing their games it’s useful to take the time during the game, and afterward in our post-match discussions, to talk about the more controversial calls.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. The Spirit of the Law, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Extending Thinking with Calvin and Hobbes

January 27, 2011

My students have been asking to write “book” reports on movies or Dr. Seuss picture books instead of novels. I am not theoretically opposed. Our theme this cycle is literary essays, with a focus on extending our thinking about issues, which can be done to any type of media: books, movies, music or even art for example. A great example is of what can be done is Richard Beck’s series of essays on the theology of Calvin and Hobbes.

… given the fact that the two lead characters are named after John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes, Calvin and Hobbes presents a dim view of human nature. … a running theme in Calvin and Hobbes is why virtue is so hard and vice so fun.
–Beck (2008) in The Theology of Calvin and Hobbes, Part 1: Human Nature Chapter 1: “Virtue needs some cheaper thrills”.

Although he’s an experimental psychologist at Abilene Christian University, Beck’s essays are fairly easy to read, and are great in how they analyze the subject work, in this case the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons, while drawing comparisons to other theological texts, from the original Hobbes’ Leviathan to recent analyses by authors like Alan Jacobs.

I think, as a condition for using an alternative to the novel, I’ll require students to read one of Beck’s essays. In fact, maybe I’ll have the entire class read the first one, “Virtue needs some cheaper thrills”, as an example of a literary essay.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Extending Thinking with Calvin and Hobbes, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Ethos, Portos, and Logos

January 5, 2011

No, not the three musketeers. These are the three things you need to persuade people: credibility, emotion and logic (Aristotle in On Rhetoric). EV, in a comment on my post on Critical Reading, pointed out an article called Classical Rhetoric, on the wonderfully named website, The Art of Manliness.

I’m trying to work this information into a lesson on Rhetoric, which, because of how closely they relate to adolescent development, the emergence of abstract thinking, and how we establish our place in the world, I’m hoping to stick into the Personal World curriculum.

To start with, here are my notes on Ethos:

Credibility (Ethos)

Credibility, the quality of being believable, depends on two things: the trustworthiness of the person, and their demonstrated knowledge of the issue at hand.


We believe good men more fully and more readily than others. … his character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses. – Aristotle

Credibility and strength of character count, even in the simplest of things. The answer to the question, “Did you take the last cookie?” will only be believed if the questioner trusts the person being asked to answer honestly.

Adolescents, who tend to be idealistic and opportunistic, need to pay close attention to the idea that history and reputation matter. They sometimes tend to view each individual encounter as it’s own separate event, unaffected by all the previous encounters and similar events. It is essential to recognize that this is not the case.

Credibility is most important because, although the cookie is a small thing, if you say, “No,” while the answer should be, “Yes,” then when the big questions come up, no matter how logical your arguments, you have no basis on which to persuade. Trust and character are hard to build, but easy to destroy.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Ethos, Portos, and Logos, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Socratic Dialogue: The God in the Machine

October 18, 2010

Synthesizing Cycle 1’s theme of, “What is Life”, I’ve given the students the option of choosing a personal novel where the question of life and sentience are important themes. Frankenstein and Feet of Clay were two suggestions.

Image adapted from Wikimedia Commons (via USMC).

For our Socratic Dialogue, I’ve found a nice article (via The Dish) from MIT’s Technology Review, which deals with the cultural differences that affect how Americans and Japanese view robots. They suggest it’s because Americans come from a monotheistic, jealous god culture where only god can create life, while the animism that permeates Japanese culture makes them more amenable to having self-actuating beings around them.

Apart from the theme, the article’s vocabulary is complex enough for lots of marking up and discussion, but it starts with the hook of warfighting mecha.

We’ll see how it goes over later today.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Socratic Dialogue: The God in the Machine, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Finding meaning in video games

July 7, 2010

If we can use music videos as a shorter proxy for introducing literature responses, then what about other types of media. On The Media had an interesting interview with the Tom Bissell, the author of “Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter“. Bissell argues that there is art worthy of criticism in video games, but there is not nearly as much as there should be.

I tend to like violent games, the same reason that I’ve worked as a war correspondent, the same reason I wrote a book about a war. I’m interested in violence.

That said, there are some games that have interesting stuff to say about violence and some games that just treat it mindlessly. And, you know both can be fun. But the ones that really affect me are the ones that actually try to address the subject. – Tom Bissell on On The Media.

In particular, he highlights “Far Cry 2”:

There’s a game called Far Cry 2 that takes place in a contemporary African civil war. It’s extremely beautiful.

And yet, it is just the most unrelentingly savage game I think I’ve ever played.

Most games that are violent give you the gun, push you in the direction of the bad guys and say hey, go kill all those guys, they’re bad. You’ll be rewarded. Good job.

Far Cry 2 does something really confounding. Going through the game, quote, “getting better at killing,” the game kind of introduces slowly that you’re actually not helping things, that, in fact, you’re kind of the problem.

Everything you’re doing is just making this conflict worse. So by the end of the game you’re just a wreck. You’re progressing through the game because that’s what the game’s asked you to do, but it’s also throwing all of this stuff back at you that’s actually shaming you a little bit for being participant in this virtual slaughter. And I love that about it. – Tom Bissell on On The Media.

Is he reading too much into violent video games trying to justify his own habits? Perhaps, but he does have a point.

When my students were telling me about Call Of Duty:Modern Warfare 2, one of the first things we talked about was the infamous airport mission. The player is an undercover agent with a terrorist organization and has to participate in shooting civilians in an attack on an airport. Jesse Stern, the scriptwriter for the video game says the mission was intended to be provocative:

People want to know. As terrifying as it is, you want to know. And there’s a part of you that wants to know what it’s like to be there because this is a human experience. These are human beings who perpetrate these acts, so you don’t really want to turn a blind eye to it. You want to take it apart and figure out how that happened and what, if anything, can be done to prevent it. Ultimately, our intention was to put you as close as possible to atrocity. As for the effect it has on you, that’s not for us to determine. Hopefully, it does have an emotional impact and it seems to have riled up a lot of people in interesting ways. Some of them good. Some of them bad.
– Jesse Stern in Gaudiosi, 2009.

There is a difference between vicariously becoming a participant in violence when a novelist lets us see the world through the eyes of a killer, and actually having to pull the virtual trigger yourself, but it seems as much one of degree as anything else. While I’ve seen some initial evidence that violent video games are bad, I’m not familiar at all with the evidence that violent novels are also bad.

Perhaps, however, when we start treating video games, particularly violent ones, in as pedantic a way as literature is sometimes treated, maybe they’ll lose some of their appeal. Or maybe, they’ll just become more educational experiences. Stern again:

When we tested the level, it was interesting. …people would get angry or sad or disgusted and immediately wonder what the Hell was going on here. And then after a few moments of having that experience, they would remember that they were in a video game and they would let go. Every single person in testing opened fire on the crowd, which is human nature. It feels so real but at the same time it’s a video game and the response to it has been fascinating. I never really knew you could elicit such a deep feeling from a video game, but it has.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Finding meaning in video games, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Corinth Mississippi in the Civil War

April 17, 2010

Stream of American History at the Corinth Civil War Interpretive center.

The Memphis to Charleston line was the only railroad that linked the East Coast of the Confederacy to the fertile Mississippi River Valley. At a time when the fastest way to move troops, supplies and commerce was by river or rail, the Memphis and Charleston railroad was essential (this was well noted in Robert Black’s “The Railroads of the Confederacy”). Cutting the railroad was an important objective of the Union. Cutting it at Corinth Mississippi would also cut the Mobile and Ohio Railroad line which linked the north and south of the Confederacy. Thus the Battle of Shiloh, where the Union could disembark its armies using the Tennessee River, and soon after, the Battle of Corinth.

The Civil War Interpretive Center in Corinth (this is also a good reference) does a nice job of presenting the details of the battles for the town, and their video presentation, with different images projected on multiple screens in a circular room was quite good (though there was a lot of information and you did not know quite which screen to focus on, so some students had trouble keeping track of it all).

Standing waves: turbulence in the stream of American history.

The most interesting part of the center is the Stream of American History which is a wonderful place to learn about metaphors. The stream starts with a fountain that overflows through 13 notches cut in the rim of the basin into a shallow water course that gradually widens as more states are added to the U.S. In the first reach of the stream there are impediments in the paved stream bed that create turbulence, harbingers of the war to come (they create nice standing waves which is an additional point in their benefit).

The 13th Amendment.

When the stream gets to its main focus, the civil war, large granitic blocks, cut into prisms and labeled with the names of the battles, break the stream into two before it finally merges again as it reaches the reflecting pool.

I threw my students at the Stream without telling them what it was. The only hint I gave was that it was a “large metaphor”. There were enough clues that they could figure it out. They wandered around it individually, with their pencils and notepaper for 15 minutes (I required that they write down their interpretation, then we got them together to pool their thoughts.

The stream is a very nice puzzle, and the National Park Service has a good key (pdf). It was a good way to end our immersion trip, and it gave the students something to think about on the long drive home.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Corinth Mississippi in the Civil War, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Seasons wheel

April 12, 2010

A beautiful intersection of art, science and abstract thinking. An assemblage of photos compressed into a circular graph by Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Seasons wheel, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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