Imagination boosted by Dance Dance Revolution? (Hutton & Sundar, 2010)

One of the potential harmful effects of media cited by critics and overly-concerned parents is that children’s creativity is hindered. Unfortunately, the operational definition of creativity is a very tricky affair and, as far I can google in ten minutes, there are no consensus on its effects and much less on the mechanisms affecting creativity. As for videogames, there is nothing in the academic literature (as far as I remember) besides the article recently published by Elizabeth Hutton and Dr. Sundar of the Media Effects Research Lab at Penn State University.

About this study, it turns out the data is at least two years old when it was reported in Science Daily where they presented it at a conference.


What role does emotion play in helping youth reach their creative potential? Does it alter how they process ideas, and how many ideas they can generate? By varying the levels of arousal associated with low, medium, and high levels of exertion in the video game Dance Dance Revolution, and inducing a positive or negative mood, this study offers evidence that emotion significantly affects creativity through the interaction of arousal and valence. Faced with the cognitive demand of creativity, lower arousal levels resulted in higher creativity scores when coupled with a negative mood. At high arousal levels, a positive mood resulted in greater creative potential than a negative mood. These results are discussed here in light of theories of emotion as a prime, as information, and as a moderator of attention.

My travel plans have gone to a twist and am coming to Columbus one day early, my airline decided to stop doing morning flights. Unfortunately, I’ve already reserved my hotel room and I could not make changes since there are no rooms available. *sigh*

Their definition of creativity is “the formation of associative elements into new patterns that either meet specified requirements or are useful.” Their theories of affecting creativity is based on arousal (either physically or mentally) and emotional valence (e.g. negative vs. positive emotions). Although, to what level of arousal is yet uncertain as the theories posit different levels that foster creativity. One side posits that low arousal should elicit higher creativity as it helps defocus attention and allow individuals to widen their eyes on things or ideas they haven’t noticed. Another suggest that moderate arousal levels is the way to go because a high level would narrow one’s attention whereas at low levels, one would not be able set to work on the problem or simply lack of motivation (something along those lines). Finally, a theory that seems like an aside is that one’s arousal level would correspond to one’s self-reported energy in a immediate subsequent task, up to a point.

Based on three different theories. your good mood can boost your creativity (and my motivation to write…). (1) You’d be more open-minded, (2) generate more original ideas and (3) facilitate greater fluency or generate ideas relevant to the task at hand (e.g. writing concisely).


Participants: 90 undergraduate students from a university in the mid-Atlantic region (e.g. Penn State University). Average is 22, mostly white (60%) followed by Asians (15%), then African-Americans (10%). 36 are male, 54 are female. Videogame experience was not assessed, nor were they assessed if they had previous experience with Dance Dance Revolution. 90 participants sound good until they wrote that they were distributed among 6 conditions (15 in each condition). So, I’m seeing some trouble here.


Valence: 20 pictures from Paul Ekamn and Wallace Friesen’s book on facial expression. Participants were asked to determine the pictures’ facial expressions and the experimenter would tell them about their performance, which is pre-determined at random, either they’re good or bad. To ensure that it affects their mood, participants were told that it test their interaction skills. This procedure was used in previous studies, no worries. The self-assessment Manikin is used to assess whether the procedure worked.

Arousal and videogame used: They used Dance Dance Revolution and participants danced to this tune (i.e. Pump Up the Volume). Participants are randomly assigned to one of three arousal levels or difficulty levels in the game: from Beginner, Light to Standard. I’ve never played Dance Dance Revolution, so I assume the different difficulty level should demand different levels of exertion. To determine the level of arousal, galvanic skin responses were used to monitor their levels before, during and after playing.

The authors addressed the issue of separating valence and arousal with independent measures, citing theoretical interests. It would be interesting to use just the game to manipulate valence and arousal together, but it would have a confounding effect since these two manipulations would occur concurrently. So this study would have lower practical implications, but a good stepping stone for future studies. I’m worried about whether participants’ game performance would affect their valence, but since the researchers did not make any explicit statement that game would test their abilities. It’s safe to assume that their performance would not affect them emotionally.

Another concern is the generalization issue since Dance Dance Revolution is a physical game, it is possible that physical exertion rather than mental exertion would have an effect on creativity. Alternatively, they might’ve used Stepmania as it allows both physical and non-physical play. Future studies should investigate on other videogame genres. The authors suggested an interactive drama as a means to manipulate both valence and arousal and to elicit creative storytelling in players.

Creativity: The Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults is a paper test. Not much is described what it contains other than it has three sections, instead indexes are enumerated. I’ll write those that were found significant in their results: Fluency: ability to produce quantities of ideas relevant to the task. Flexibility: ability to process information in different ways. Originality: ability to produce uncommon ideas that are totally new or unique.

Mental energy: Items based on the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule Scale was used to measure one’s mental energy on a 10-point scale. Number of items unknown.


Participants completed the facial recognition task. After that, they played Dance Dance Revolution where they are randomly assigned to play on one of the three difficulty level. After play, the experimenter tells the participants their randomly pre-determined results on the facial recognition task, either good or bad. It is followed by the self-assessment Manikin, giving the self-assessment scale might reveal the study’s true purpose since it’s giving immediately after they gave the score. Anyways, participants do the Abbreviated Torrance Test where they are given three minutes to complete per section. Finally, they complete the mental energy measure, given a debriefing and promptly kicked out with course credits in hand.

Since their mood was induced after the game, it makes one think about doing it before the game. It would be interesting to see how pre-game mood would affect creativity or how a videogame would change one’s mood. Furthermore, it kind of makes more sense to induce mood before playing since in real life situations, people would play videogames to escape from bad situations or are in a good mood to play.


Their mood and arousal measures worked as intended, there are significant differences between the 6 condition groups.

A main effect between arousal and flexibility was statistically significant in that low and high levels of arousal elicited higher flexibility than moderate levels of arousal. Mental energy was significantly correlated with arousal up to high levels where it starts to plummet. Originality was near-significantly correlated with negative mood. Not much was discussed in the discussion section.

Interactions effects were found in that high overall creativity is found among those with positive mood and high arousal and those with negative mood and low arousal, the same can be said to fluency. They went on into what would happen if creativity is a linear process and how high arousal with positive mood would stimulate the creative process whereas low arousal with negative mood might have affected the analytical stage in the process. I don’t know, that part of the paper seemed out of place. They suggested looking into specific emotions, like euphoria, might be better in boosting creativity than others. The authors offered some practical implications for educational purposes, such as military and academic training. (1) the interactive media helps foster creativity and (2) in doing so keeps them engaged which is useful for teachers in keeping students focused on some boring subjects, like mathematics.

Creativity isn’t my area of expertise and the article doesn’t really answer the question if videogames affect an individual’s creativity (IMO). They’ve just used videogames to manipulate their arousal level and other means, like a treadmill, would probably have similar results. Disappointingly, they haven’t dug deep into gameplay mechanics or anything that defines videogames from other leisurely activities, such as in-game creativity. For example, creative griefing in Team Fortress 2. Most importantly, the vast selection of mods for every game you can think of shows a great deal of creative output from a medium that supposedly drains the imaginative juices from children.

Hutton, E. & Sundar, S.S. (2010). Can video games enhance creativity? Effects of emotion generated by Dance Dance Revolution. Creativity Research Journal, 22 (3), 294-303. doi: 10.1080/10400419.2010.503540


One thought on “Imagination boosted by Dance Dance Revolution? (Hutton & Sundar, 2010)

  1. In retrospect, it’s a good study and given they investigated arousal which is relevant to aggression research, I might be on to something… but it flew out of my head when writing this comment.

    I also noticed that I omitted the authors’ practical implications section for game designers. If game designers can generate a balanced amount of excitement without frustrating the players. It would could spark some creativity. “win excitedly or lose calmly.” as they wrote.

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