Creative Ideation Increases Indulgent Choices

Management Illustrations

Author Information:

Verena Krause (University College London)*

Lynne C. Vincent (Syracuse University)*

Jack A. Goncalo (University of Illinois Urbana Champaign)


*Shared first author



Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming)



Across ten experiments (and an additional four in the supplemental material) and 3412 participants (including the ones in the supplemental material), we find that engaging in a creative idea generation (vs. control or practical) task led to more indulgent eating, drinking, and exercise choices and behaviors due to activation of behavioral activation system (BAS), which caused uninhibited pursuit of desires and rewards.


Research Questions:

1.) Engaging in a creative idea-generation task causes more indulgent and disinhibited health choices.

2.) This effect occurs through an activation of the behavioral activation system (BAS), which increases individuals' pursuit of rewards. 


What We Know:

Creative idea generation asks people to be disinhibited in their thinking and to consider options and ideas that they previously had not considered. This can lead to novel and useful ideas, but what happens after the idea generation is over? We found that the sense of disinhibition continues after the task ends and can affect people's immediate, short-term health choices. We explored disinhibited health choices in different ways. Participants created hypothetical burgers, cocktails, and exercise plans. Participants selected gifts among candy, apples, and pens. Participants ate candy while they completed the studies. Across the studies, the findings were consistent. After engaging in the creative idea generation task compared to a practical idea generation task or a control task, participants created calorically dense burgers with all of the toppings and cheese (and we mean all of the toppings- participants had over 70 options for toppings alone), cocktails with higher alcohol content, and more indulgent, relaxing exercise routine. They were more likely to choose candy as a gift, and they ate more candy during the study.


Organizations are asking employees to be more creative at their jobs, and creativity is a part of our everyday lives. Given that, we had to consider how creativity affects us. Creativity has so many benefits for individuals, society, and organizations, but there may be some unexpected consequences. That same disinhibited thinking that allows you to explore new ideas may also cause you to make some less healthy choices.



We theorize and test for the first time the possibility that the disinhibition experienced after creative ideation may heighten individuals’ focus on short-term gratification of rewards and their pursuit of those rewards. Specifically, those who engage in creative efforts might subsequently make more indulgent choices, defined “as allowing oneself to select and enjoy the pleasure from an option that is considered a treat compared with the alternative option(s)” (Cavanaugh, 2014; p. 220), in the domains of eating, drinking, and exercise, via choosing more calories, alcohol, and inactivity, respectively.  

We show, for the first time, that engaging in short creative ideation tasks can have detrimental consequences for one’s short-term health choices.


Implications for Practice:

Creativity can make us feel disinhibited, and after being creative, we might reach for more disinhibited and indulgent rewards. After being creative, we feel freer and are more likely to consider rewards and indulgences that we might not have considered before. With creativity being part of our daily lives, these choices could affect our health and well-being. Creativity undeniably is valuable and beneficial, but we have to keep an eye on the downsides.

When you are engaging in creative idea generation, you might want to be more mindful of your health choices right after or remind yourself of your health goals.


Implications for Future Research:

This research opens new questions about how creativity affects our self-control and our health. It is part of a growing research stream that examines the unexpected consequences (both positive and negative) of creativity.

We examined short-term consequences for health choices. We do not know how engaging in creative idea generation will affect long-term health choices or how it affects people who regularly engage in creative idea generation tasks.


Full Citation:

Krause, V.,* Vincent, L.C.,* & Goncalo, J.A. Creative Ideation Increases Indulgent Choices. Forthcoming at Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

*Shared first author



Given that creative thinking has been widely characterized as involving disinhibition, we tested whether a brief creative effort increased subsequent indulgence through the choice of real or imagined rewards. Across ten experiments (and an additional four in the supplemental material) and 3412 participants (including the ones in the supplemental material), we show that a short creative ideation (vs. control) task led to more indulgent eating, drinking, and exercise choices and behaviors. Participants who generated creative ideas subsequently assembled burgers with higher calorie content (Studies 1a, 3a, 3b, 4), proposed cocktails with higher alcohol content (Study 1b), planned workouts that burned fewer calories (Study 1c), chose candy more often (Study 1d) and ate more candy (Study 2) than participants who engaged in control tasks. In line with the perspective that creativity involves disinhibition, these effects were uniquely mediated by the behavioral activation system (BAS), which is thought to underlie the uninhibited pursuit of desires and rewards (Studies 2, 3a, 4). Furthermore, an experiment in which we manipulated BAS activation showed a causal effect on unhealthy eating choices (Study 5). We discuss the implications for future research on the consequences of creativity as well as the possibility that creative work might lead to indulgent, potentially unhealthy choices and behaviors.


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