Yujie Cheng: "Creativity Under the Gun: How Threat Features and Personal Characteristics Motivate Creative Responding."

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Yujie Cheng: "Creativity Under the Gun: How Threat Features and Personal Characteristics Motivate Creative Responding."

On September 12, 2017 Yujie Cheng successfully defended the PhD thesis entitled "Creativity Under the Gun: How Threat Features and Personal Characteristics Motivate Creative Responding." at .

Prof. Dr. Carsten K.W. de Dreu

Dr. Matthijs Baas


The goal of the present dissertation is to examine how threats influence creativity. Past work has shown threats and concomitant fear and anxiety can both increase and decrease creativity, without providing convincing reasons (Byron & Khazanchi, 2011; Mehta & Zhu, 2009; De Dreu & Nijstad, 2008). In this dissertation, it is proposed that creativity is about being motivated to realize goals that matter. People are motivated to avoid danger, and these security-related goals may lead to enhanced creativity, but only in domains that are relevant to deal with the threat at hand, and not in domains that are irrelevant to the threat (the motivated focus account, De Dreu & Nijstad, 2008). Furthermore, theories on human threat responding state that human threat management systems are functionally distinct and flexible. They are sensitive to different cues signaling particular threats, are more likely to be engaged when the threatened person is especially vulnerable to the threat, and lead to highly specific cognitions and behaviors that are attuned to the threat (Cosmides & Tooby, 1994; Neuberg et al., 2011; Schaller et al., 2007). Integrating both theoretical perspectives, I predict that people facing threats can be creative in threat‐relevant domains through threat‐induced motivated focus, and that creativity under threats is highly specific and responsive to the particular features of threats (e.g. the direction of threat), situational resources (e.g., available time to react), and dispositional variables (e.g., dispositional threat sensitivity).

Four empirical studies tested hypotheses that are derived from this general principle using both intrapersonal (e.g., health threats) and interpersonal threats (e.g., violent assaults) with regards to the full cycle of creative problem solving, from the inclusive processing of information, through the generation of defense tactics, to the evaluation and selection of threat responses for implementation. Results showed that threats do not have a generalized impact on creativity. Rather, they selectively enhance creativity that is relevant and functional in managing the specific threat at hand. Moreover, more original responses and greater preference for creative tactics occurs when threats were more personally relevant, and for people that were especially
vulnerable to threats. These findings thus attest to the crucial role of motivation for the domain-specific threat-relevant creativity to occur. Lastly, this motivated focus account of threat‐relevant creativity applies not only to creative idea generation but also to inclusive information processing and idea selection process of creativity cycle.

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