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Research Finds Video Games Can Impact Creativity

Kids Playing Dance Dance RevolutionAs we see increased attention on the social and medical potential of video games, their impact on creativity is the subject of a recent study by researchers at the Pennsylvania State University. Presented last week at the 58th annual conference of the International Communication Association in Montreal, the study looked at how video games can improve one’s creativity.

The study, lead by S. Shyam Sundar, professor of film, video and media studies at Penn State and graduate student Elizabeth Hutton, aimed to uncover the role video games could play in promoting positive social traits, in particular creativity. Read More...

The researchers evaluated 98 undergraduate and graduate students as they played Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution, at various levels of complexity and varying speeds. Following their play time, participants were asked to complete a creativity test. The researchers also took readings of the players' skin conductance and asked players if they were feeling either positive or negative after the game.

"We looked at two emotional variables: arousal and valence," said Elizabeth Hutton to ScienceDaily. "Arousal is the degree of physical excitation -- as measured through skin conductance -- and valence, which is the range of positive or negative feeling."

They found that emotions significantly affected creativity. Low physical exertion generally resulted in higher creative scores, but only when coupled with a negative mood. Alternatively, high exertion levels with a positive mood also resulted in greater creativity.

They also found that mood limited the impact of arousal. This means that for high and low levels of physical exertion, valence moderated the effect on creativity. For example, at high levels of physical exertion a positive mood lead to significant creativity, but a negative mood at the same exertion level lead to reduced creativity. On the other hand, a negative mood at a low level of exertion led to the greatest level of creativity. But moderate valence and arousal together had no significant effect.

The researchers explain, in a summary of their study, that creativity is associated with broad and diffused attention.

"You need defocused attention for being creative," said Dr. Sundar. "When you have low arousal and are negative, you tend to focus on detail and become more analytical." Similarly, someone with a high attention level would focus on central and more relevant cues, rather than incidental and remote cues. These cues become most easily perceivable at low and high levels of physical exertion, which leads to a broader and defocused attention from which to draw creative thoughts.

While these polar extremes were most conducive to creativity, angry and relaxed individuals were the least creative. The first state is a combination of high exertion with negative mood, and the second low exertion with positive mood.

“Games that are designed for you to become ecstatic are good for creativity, but they should not frustrate you when you lose,” Dr. Sundar said to Ivanhoe. “Games ought to be designed such that you lose calmly and win excitedly.”

"When you are highly aroused, the energy itself acts as a catalyst, and the happy mood acts as an encouragement. It is like being in a zone where you cannot be thrown off your game," explained Sundar, to ScienceDaily. “A negative mood, especially when there is low arousal, brings a different kind of energy that makes a person more analytical, which is crucial to creativity as well,” he added.

While these findings require further research, Sundar and Hutton believe video games which play with levels of arousal and valence could find many uses, specifically with students or in decision-making situations.

"The key is to generate emotion," said Sundar. "Video games can help achieve that in an already simulated way."