The influence of mood during incubation on subsequent design ideation

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Incubation, which involves putting the problem aside temporarily and performing an unrelated activity, has been widely shown to enhance creativity. It has also been proposed that incubation may facilitate design ideation, though relatively few studies have empirically examined this. As such, there is a lack of knowledge regarding the role of incubation in a design context, including the key psychological factors that may determine the effectiveness of incubation. One possible influencing factor is the mood of the designer during incubation. It is well known that creative cognition is influenced by mood, with positive moods in particular being linked with increased cognitive flexibility and novel thinking. Previous research has also indicated that positive mood during incubation can improve subsequent divergent thinking, although it is not clear whether similar effects occur in a design context. Against this background, this thesis aimed to assess whether incubation, in general, would facilitate subsequent design ideation. In addition, it aimed to examine whether positive moods during incubation would be particularly effective in enhancing ideation. A preliminary study was firstly conducted to establish the cognitive processes associated with the generation of novel design concepts and identify which, if any, of these processes were known to be influenced by mood. To this end, 101 product design engineering students performed a series of open-ended ideation tasks as well as a range of psychological tests that assess different cognitive processes, including measures of associative processing, executive function, mental imagery, and intelligence. Correlation analyses indicated significant positive relationships between idea novelty (assessed by 3 independent raters) and scores on associative flexibility, verbal fluency and fluid intelligence. In addition, a significant negative correlation was observed between inhibition and novelty. Finally, a regression model with the cognitive test scores showing significant correlation as predictors was found to be explain 26% variance in ideation novelty in the sample. Importantly, several of the cognitive processes highlighted as key to the generation of novel concepts (associative flexibility, verbal fluency and disinhibition) have been shown by previous research to be enhanced by positive mood. This suggested that positive moods during incubation, through stimulating these processes, may facilitate subsequent design ideation. This was formally tested in study 2, in which a group of product design engineering students (n=72) were randomly assigned to one of four conditions. Each participant performed the same ideation task but with: an incubation period with a happy mood induction, or incubation with sad mood induction, or incubation where no mood was induced or no incubation period and no induced mood. The happy and sad mood induction used in the experiment involved exposure to mood appropriate music and text. The neutral group were also exposed to music and text during the incubation period but this was not designed to induce any specific mood. The results suggested that firstly, there was no evidence of a general (i.e. non-mood related) incubation effect in that the control group and the neutral group showed no significant differences in terms of fluency or novelty of ideas generated. Secondly, there were no significant differences in ideation performance between the three incubation groups (i.e., happy, sad, neutral incubation), showing no support for the hypothesis that positive moods during incubation period would have a particularly beneficial impact on performance. Finally, while there was no evidence of an incubation effect, the results did suggest that in general, participants generated more novel ideas in the se
Date of Award5 May 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SponsorsEPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) & University of Strathclyde
SupervisorAlex Duffy (Supervisor), Laura Hay (Supervisor) & Madeleine Grealy (Supervisor)

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