The Unconscious City: How Expectancies About Creative Milieus Influence Creative Performance

  • Jens Förster
Part of the Knowledge and Space book series (KNAS, volume 2)

Paris: City of love. New York: The city that never sleeps. Hamburg: The Reeperbahn. Jerusalem: The Holy City. These pairings are only few examples of specific con tents people associate with cities or other places. True or not, correspondences of this kind are represented in memory and may pop into mind when people are asked about their knowledge of certain cities. For example, if you are asked to tell a friend what you think about New York, you may recall the many galleries in Chelsea, the roaring nightlife and the clumsy, Woody-Allen-like neurotic genius who avoids your glances.

Over the last decades, researchers in social psychology have made enormous progress in understanding how these sorts of stereotypes are represented in memory (e.g., Collins & Loftus, 1975; Higgins, 1996; Higgins et al., 1977; Huber et al., 2001; Wyer, 2004; Wyer & Radvansky, 1999). More relevant for this chapter, social psychology shows that representations of this nature influence people's feelings, thinking, and behavior (for reviews, see Dijksterhuis & Bargh, 2001; Förster & Liberman, 2007). Maybe the most provocative insight from this research is that representations like these can influence the behavior of people even without them knowing or desiring it (Moskowitz et al., 2004). Such outcomes are called “ priming effects.” I first summarize classic research focusing on human judgments and behavior and suggest that even creative thinking can be affected by unconscious activation of stereotypes. I then outline research that social psychologists have con ducted on creative thinking and continue by arguing that some cities are associated with creativity. I suggest that such thinking works like a self-fulfilling prophecy, that is, that the creativity of people increases when they are reminded of a crea tive place. I then recount an experiment in which undergraduate participants were exposed to the names of particular cities so briefly that conscious recognition of the names was impossible (subliminal presentation). I also report the results of a posttest showing whether this exposure influenced the participants' performance on a creativity task, the prediction being that the creativity of the participants would be automatically increased when they were subconsciously reminded of cities that they associated with a creative milieu.


Creative Thinking Creative Cognition Social Information Processing Experimental Social Psychology Thinking Style 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Amabile, T. M. (1996). Creativity in context: Update to The social psychology of creativity. Boulder, CO: Westview.Google Scholar
  2. Bargh, J. A., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype activation on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 230–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barron, F. (1955). The disposition towards originality. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 51, 478–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berlyne, D. E. (1974). Studies in new experimental aesthetics. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  5. Bruner, J. (1962). Introduction: The new educational technology. American Behavioral Scientist, 6, 5–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chartrand, T. L. & Bargh, J. A. (1996). Automatic activation of social information processing goals: Nonconscious priming reproduces effects of explicit conscious instructions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 464–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Clore, G. L., Schwarz, N., & Conway, M. (1994). Affective causes and consequences of social information processing. In R. S. Wyer & T. K. Srull (Eds.), Handbook of social cognition, 1, 323–418. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  8. Collins, A. M. & Loftus, E. F. (1975). A spreading activation theory of semantic processing. Psychological Review, 82, 407–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Crosby, F. J., Iyer, A., Clayton, S., & Downing, R. A. (2003). Affirmative action: Psychological data and the policy debates. American Psychologist, 58, 93–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Devine, P. G. (1989). Stereotypes and prejudice: Their automatic and controlled components. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 5–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dijksterhuis, A. & Bargh, J. A. (2001). The perception-behavior expressway: Automatic effects of social perception on social behavior. In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 33, pp. 1–40). San Diego, CA: Academic.Google Scholar
  12. Epley, N. & Guilovich, T. (1999). Just going along: Nonconscious priming and conformity to social pressure. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 578–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Eysenck, H. (1993). Creativity and personality: An attempt to bridge divergent traditions. Psychological Inquiry, 4, 238–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Förster, J. & Denzler, M. (2006). Selbst-Regulation. In W. Bierhoff & D. Frey (Eds.), Handbuchder Psychologie: Vol. 3. Sozialpsychologie (pp. 128–132). Berlin: Hogrefe.Google Scholar
  15. Förster, J. & Friedman, R. (2003). Kontextabhängige Kreativität [Context-dependent creativity]. Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 211, 149–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Förster, J. & Higgins, E. T. (2005). How global versus local perception fits regulatory focus. Psychological Science, 16, 631–636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Förster, J. & Liberman, N. (2007). Knowledge activation. In E. T. Higgins & A. W. Kruglanski (Eds.), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (2nd ed., pp. 201 – 231). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  18. Förster, J., Friedman, R., Butterbach, E. M., & Sassenberg. K. (2005). Automatic effects of deviancy cues on creative cognition. European Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 345–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Förster, J., Friedman, R., Özelsel, A., & Denzler, M. (2006). Enactment of approach and avoidance behavior influences the scope of perceptual and conceptual attention. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 133–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Friedman, R. S. & Förster, J. (2000). The effects of approach and avoidance motor actions on the elements of creative insight. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 477–492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Friedman, R. S. & Förster, J. (2001). The effects of promotion and prevention cues on creativity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 1001–1013.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Friedman, R. S. & Förster, J. (2002). The influence of approach and avoidance motor actions on creative cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 41–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Friedman, R. S. & Förster, J. (2005). Effects of motivational cues on perceptual asymmetry: Implications for creativity and analytical problem solving. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 263–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Friedman, R. S. & Förster, J. (2008). Activation and measurement of motivational states. In A. Elliott (Ed.), Handbook of approach and avoidance motivation (pp. 233–246.). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  25. Friedman, R. S., McCarthy, D. M., Förster, J., & Denzler, M. (2005). Automatic effects of alcoholcues on sexual attraction. Addiction, 100, 672–681.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Guilford, J. P. (1950). Creativity. American Psychologist, 5, 444–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hassin, R. R., Uleman, J. S., & Bargh, J. A. (2005). The new unconscious. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Higgins, E. T. (1996). Knowledge activation: Accessibility, applicability, and salience. In E. T. Higgins & A. W. Kruglanski (Eds.), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (pp. 133–168). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  29. Higgins, E. T. (1997). Beyond pleasure and pain. American Psychologist, 52, 1280–1300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Higgins, E. T., Rholes, W. S., & Jones, C. R. (1977). Category accessibility and impression formation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 13, 141–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hilgard, E. R. & Bower, G. H. (1975). Theories of learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  32. Hirt, E. R., McDonald, H. E., & Melton, J. R. (1996). Processing goals and the affect-performance link: Mood as main effect or mood as input? In L. L. Martin & A. Tesser (Eds.), Striving and feeling: Interactions among goals, affect, and self-regulation (pp. 303–328). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  33. Huber, D. E., Shiffrin, R. M., Lyle, K. B., & Ruys, K. I. (2001). Perception and preference in short-term work priming. Psychological Review, 108, 149–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Isen, A. M. (2000). Positive affect and decision making. In M. Lewis & J. Haviland-Jones (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (2nd ed., pp. 417–435). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  35. Isen, A. M., Daubman, K. A., & Nowicki, G. P. (1987). Positive affect facilitates creative problem solving. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 1122–1131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Macrae, C. N. & Johnston, L. (1998). Help, I need somebody: Automatic action and inaction. Social Cognition, 16, 400–417.Google Scholar
  37. McGraw K. O. (1978). The detrimental effects of reward on performance: A literature review and a prediction model. In M. R. Lepper & D. Greene (Eds.), The hidden costs of rewards (pp. 33–60). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  38. Moskowitz, G. B., Li, P., & Kirk, E. R. (2004). The implicit volition model: On the preconscious regulation of temporarily adopted goals. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 36, pp. 317–404). New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  39. Murray, N., Sujan, H., Hirt, E. R., & Sujan, M. (1990). The influence of mood categorization: A cognitive flexibility interpretation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 411–425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Mussweiler, T. & Förster, J. (2000). The sex → aggresion link: A perception-behavior dissociation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 507–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Seibt, B. & Förster, J. (2004). Risky and careful processing under stereotype threat: How regulatory focus can enhance and deteriorate performance when self stereotypes are active. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 38–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Simonton, D. K. (1991). Emergence and realization of genius: The lives and works of 120 classical composers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 829–840.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Simonton, D. K. (2000). Creativity: Cognitive, personal, developmental, and social aspects. American Psychologist, 55, 151–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sternberg, R. J. (1999). Handbook of creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Sternberg, R. J. & Lubart, T. I. (1991). An investment theory of creativity and its development. Human Development, 34, 1–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Sternberg, R. J. & Lubart, T. I. (1995). An investment approach to creativity: Theory and data. In S. M. Smith, T. B. Ward, & R. A. Finke (Eds.), The creative cognition approach (pp. 271–302). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  47. Strack, F. (1992). The different routes to social judgments: Experiential versus informational strategies. In L. L. Martin & A. Tesser (Eds.), The construction of social judgments (pp. 249–275). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  48. Strack, F. & Hannover, B. (1996). Awareness of influence as a precondition for implementing correctional goals. In P. M. Gollwitzer & J. A. Bargh (Eds.), The psychology of action: Linking cognition and motivation to behavior (pp. 579–596). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  49. Strahan, E. J., Spencer, S. J., & Zanna, M. P. (2002). Subliminal priming and persuasion: Striking while the iron is hot. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 556–568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Taylor, D. (1960). Thinking and creativity. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 91, 108–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Walther, E., Müller, D., & Schott, O. (2001). Automatisches soziales Verhalten. Wie wirkt sichdie Aktivierung der Konzepte Altruismus und Egoismus auf Hilfeleistung aus? Zeitschrift für Experimentalle Psychologie, 48, 248–257.Google Scholar
  52. Wyer, R. S., Jr. (2004). Social comprehension and judgment: The role of situation models, narratives, and implicit theories. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  53. Wyer, R. S., Jr. (2008). The role of knowledge accessibility in cognition and behavior: Implications for consumer information processing. In C. Haugvedt, F. R. Kardes, & P. M. Herr (Eds.), Handbook of consumer research (pp. 31–76). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  54. Wyer, R. S., Jr. & Radvansky, G. A. (1999). The comprehension and validation of social information. Psychological Review, 106, 89–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wyer, R. S., Jr., Clore, G. L., & Isbell, L. M. (1999). Affect and information processing. In M. P Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 31, pp. 1–77). San Diego, CA: Academic.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jens Förster
    • 1
  1. 1.Jacobs University Bremen and Universiteit van Amsterdam Campus Ring 1BremenGermany

Personalised recommendations