Mental set and creative thought in social conflict: threat rigidity versus motivated focus

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2008 Sep;95(3):648-61. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.95.3.648.


According to the traditional threat-rigidity reasoning, people in social conflict will be less flexible, less creative, more narrow-minded, and more rigid in their thinking when they adopt a conflict rather than a cooperation mental set. The authors propose and test an alternative, motivated focus account that better fits existing evidence. The authors report experimental results inconsistent with a threat-rigidity account, but supporting the idea that people focus their cognitive resources on conflict-related material more when in a conflict rather than a cooperation mental set: Disputants with a conflict (cooperation) set have broader (smaller) and more (less) inclusive cognitive categories when the domain of thought is (un)related to conflict (Experiment 1a-1b). Furthermore, they generate more, and more original competition tactics (Experiments 2-4), especially when they have low rather than high need for cognitive closure. Implications for conflict theory, for motivated information processing, and creativity research are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Creativity*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Problem Solving
  • Set, Psychology*
  • Social Behavior
  • Thinking*