Sympathy fuels creativity: The beneficial effects of sympathy on originality

Hwajin Yang, Sujin Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Sympathy is usually evoked by heightened awareness of and concern for others' suffering by perceiving or reacting to their distress or need. Sympathetic contexts appear to spur creative solutions, because those who react sympathetically to others' suffering tend to seek novel, desirable, and prosocial solutions that alleviate suffering and promote well-being. We conducted two studies to investigate whether sympathy enhances creativity. Study 1 tested the feasibility of using images of distressed elderly as an unobtrusive method to induce sympathy. Study 2 sought to determine whether induced sympathy promotes creativity, and whether individual differences in trait empathy moderate this effect. Results demonstrate that sympathy fosters creative originality - but not creative fluency or flexibility - as assessed by either content-general or content-specific creativity measures. In addition, the beneficial effect of sympathy on originality is moderated by individual differences in trait empathy. The potential mechanisms that underlie these effects are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-143
Number of pages12
JournalThinking Skills and Creativity
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a research grant from the Ministry of Education Academic Research Fund Tier 1 Grant ( C242/MSS11S005 ). We would like to thank our research assistants, Timothy Seow, Nai Ze Ling, Grace Chan, and Clara Chan, for their help.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Creativity
  • Flexibility
  • Fluency
  • Induced sympathy
  • Originality
  • Trait empathy


Dive into the research topics of 'Sympathy fuels creativity: The beneficial effects of sympathy on originality'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this