Washington, May 24 : An Indian-origin media researcher at Penn State has found in a study that video games with the power to energize players and induce a positive mood, may help increase a person's creativity.
S. Shyam Sundar, however, revealed that his study has also found players who were not highly energized, and had a negative mood, to register the highest creativity.
"You need defocused attention for being creative. When you have low arousal and are negative, you tend to focus on detail and become more analytical," said Sundar, a professor of Film, Video and Media Studies at Penn State.
He undertook the study with a graduate student named Elizabeth Hutton with a view to understanding the value of video games as a vehicle for sparking positive social traits, such as creativity.
The fact that schools, corporations, and even the government are increasingly employing video games as a tool in enhancing learning and decision-making acted as a compelling force for the researcher duo to begin their study.
"Video games are not just for entertainment alone. We are trying to figure out how they can aid in education as well," says Sundar.
During the study, 98 undergraduate and graduate students were asked to play a popular video game known as 'Dance Dance Revolution', at various levels of complexity.
The students took a standard creativity test after playing, while the researchers took readings of the players' skin conductance and asked them whether they were feeling either positive or negative after the game.
"We looked at two emotional variables: arousal and valence. Arousal is the degree of physical excitation -- as measured through skin conductance -- and valence, which is the range of positive or negative feeling," said Hutton.
Upon a statistical analysis of the two emotional variables and the students' creativity scores, the researchers found two totally different groups with high scores.
The researchers noted that players with a high degree of arousal and positive mood were most likely to have new ideas for problem solving. They also observed that creativity scores were highest for players with low arousal and a negative mood.
Inferring their findings in real-life terms, the researchers said that the study seemed to show that happy or sad are most creative after playing the game, while angry or relaxed people are not.
According to them, their findings appear to show that either high or low arousal is key to creativity, and that medium amounts of arousal are not conducive to creativity.
"When you are highly aroused, the energy itself acts as a catalyst, and the happy mood acts as an encouragement. It is like being in a zone where you cannot be thrown off your game," said Sundar.
He says that a negative mood, especially when there is low arousal, brings a different kind of energy that makes a person more analytical, which is also crucial to creativity.
Sundar and Hutton made a presentation on their study at the 58th annual conference of the International Communication Association (ICA) in Montreal recently, and won a Top Paper award from the association's Game Studies division.
They said that their findings might provide important points as to how a video game could be enabled to make a person creative.
"We are not looking just at creative games, but what emotional elements of games can serve as an engine to spark creative thought and new problem solving skills," said Sundar, who is also a founder of the Penn State Media Effects Research Laboratory.
He also said that video games can be used in classrooms to energize students and improve their creativity, and in companies to improve corporate decision-making.
"The key is to generate emotion. Ideally, a good teacher can energize the class and make them much more emotionally invested through presentations, guest lectures, and group discussions. Video games can help achieve that in an already simulated way," said Sundar.