Why social threat motivates malevolent creativity

Matthijs Baas, Marieke Roskes, Severine Koch, Yujie Cheng, Carsten K. W. De Dreu

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History is rife with examples of the dark side of creativity—ingenious weapons, novel torture practices, and creative terrorist attacks—yet its psychological origins are sparsely addressed and poorly understood. Building on work showing that social threat induces focused thinking as well as aggressive cognitions and readiness to fight, we propose that threats lead to more malevolent creativity and less creativity in threat-irrelevant domains. Prisoner’s dilemma games were modified to evoke threat of exploitation. Participants then generated novel brick uses (Study 1, N = 113) or negotiation tactics (Study 2;N = 79). High (vs. low) social threat led to more “malevolent” creativity (e.g., using bricks as weapons; using intimidation as negotiation tactic). Social threat reduced nonthreat-related creative ideation only in Study 1. Study 2 showed that the increase of malevolent creativity was due to the motivation to defend and aggress, and emerged especially among individuals with a high need for cognition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1590-1602
Number of pages13
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number11
Early online date31 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • avoidance
  • creativity
  • malevolent creativity
  • motivation
  • threat


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