Suspicious spirits, flexible minds: When distrust enhances creativity.
Intuitively, as well as in light of prior research, distrust and creativity appear incompatible. The social consequences of distrust include reluctance to share information, a quality detrimental to creativity in social settings. At the same time, the cognitive concomitants of distrust bear resemblance to creative cognition: Distrust seems to foster thinking about nonobvious alternatives to potentially deceptive appearances. These cognitive underpinnings of distrust hold the provocative implication that distrust may foster creativity. Mirroring these contradictory findings, we suggest that the social versus cognitive consequences of distrust have diverging implications for creativity. We address this question in Study 1 by introducing private/public as a moderating variable for effects of distrust on creativity. Consistent with distrust's social consequences, subliminal distrust (vs. trust) priming had detrimental effects on creative generation presumed to be public. Consistent with distrust's cognitive consequences, though, an opposite tendency emerged in private. Study 2 confirmed a beneficial effect of distrust on private creative generation with a different priming method and pointed to cognitive flexibility as the mediating process. Studies 3 and 4 showed increased category inclusiveness versus increased remote semantic spread after distrust priming, consistent with enhanced cognitive flexibility as a consequence of distrust. Taken together, these results provide evidence for the creativity-enhancing potential of distrust and suggest cognitive flexibility as its underlying mechanism.