Creative work may help unburden secret keepers

June 9, 2015 by Mary Catt, Cornell University

Secrets. Most of us have some, and new research led by ILR School professor Jack Goncalo might help us live with them more easily.

Many employees choose not to disclose , such as disability, illness or ; keeping a secret can impacts one's work by drawing energy and creating anxiety, he said. It follows that freeing a worker from this weight could result in better work.

Studies detailed in the paper are the first to show that can be an outlet for the burden of keeping secrets, Goncalo said, and that unburdening has huge implications for the workplace.

In three studies, 348 participants were asked by ILR researchers to recall either a big or small secret. After thinking of a secret, they were asked to brainstorm ideas. Some participants were told to be "creative" while working on this task, while others were told to be "practical."

After working on the task, participants were asked to do things that measure how physically and psychological burdened they felt. People burdened by secrets tended to overestimate the weight of objects.

Results showed that for people who are actively suppressing a big secret, the opportunity to be creative while working on a task literally can feel so liberating that it can lift the burden of secrecy.

That lifting can make people more willing, for example, to help someone move books that they might have thought were too heavy had they not had a creative outlet, Goncalo said.

The idea that creative work can be an "outlet" for psychological burdens is a major departure from existing research, according to the researchers.

Most research on creativity during the past 30 years, Goncalo said, has been based on the assumption that creative ideas are inherently valuable and potentially profitable. As a result, enormous attention focused on understanding how to encourage the expression of at work.

This study reverses that equation and looks at creativity not as an endpoint, but as a work process that can, in and of itself, have positive consequences for an individual's happiness and well-being.

The study's implications for the workplace, Goncalo said, show that creative work might boost employee morale, even if the ideas themselves are not necessarily profitable in a literal sense.

Findings also suggest that people might choose jobs that demand creativity as a way of dealing with underlying psychological burdens; managers who supervise creative professionals might want to anticipate that possibility, he said.

Explore further: People are biased against creative ideas, studies find

More information: "The liberating consequences of creative work: How a creative outlet lifts the physical burden of secrecy," Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 59, July 2015, Pages 32-39, ISSN 0022-1031, dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2015.03.004

Related Stories

People are biased against creative ideas, studies find

August 26, 2011

The next time your great idea at work elicits silence or eye rolls, you might just pity those co-workers. Fresh research indicates they don't even know what a creative idea looks like and that creativity, hailed as a positive ...

Political correctness in diverse workplace fosters creativity

December 1, 2014

People may associate political correctness with conformity but new research finds it also correlates with creativity in work settings. Imposing a norm that sets clear expectations of how women and men should interact with ...

Is there a hidden bias against creativity?

November 18, 2011

CEOs, teachers, and leaders claim they want creative ideas to solve problems. But creative ideas are rejected all the time. A new study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of ...

Recommended for you

Semimetals are high conductors

March 18, 2019

Researchers in China and at UC Davis have measured high conductivity in very thin layers of niobium arsenide, a type of material called a Weyl semimetal. The material has about three times the conductivity of copper at room ...

Researchers discover new material to help power electronics

March 18, 2019

Electronics rule our world, but electrons rule our electronics. A research team at The Ohio State University has discovered a way to simplify how electronic devices use those electrons—using a material that can serve dual ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.