When you’re in a bad mood, you may want to focus on tasks that are more detail-oriented, like proofreading, research indicates.
The study, published in Frontiers in Communicationit builds on existing research on how the brain processes language.
Vicky Lai, an assistant professor of psychology and cognitive sciences at the University of Arizona, worked with collaborators in the Netherlands to explore how people’s brains react to language when they are in a good mood and when they are in a bad mood.
“Mood and language appear to be underpinned by different brain networks. But we have one brain, and they are both processed in the same brain, so there is a lot of interaction,” says Lai. “We show that when people are in a bad mood, they are more careful and analytical. They examine what is actually said in a text, and do not just fall back on their default knowledge of the world.
good mood, bad mood
Lai and his co-authors set out to manipulate the moods of study participants by showing them clips from a sad movie:Sofia’s choice—or a funny TV show—Friends. They used a computerized survey to assess the mood of the participants before and after watching the videos. While the funny videos did not affect the participants’ mood, the sad videos did manage to put the participants in a more negative frame of mind, the researchers found.
Participants then listened to a series of emotionally neutral audio recordings of four-sentence stories, each containing a “critical sentence” that supported or violated default or familiar word knowledge. That sentence was displayed one word at a time on a computer screen, while the participants’ brain waves were monitored by EEG, a test that measures brain waves.
For example, the researchers presented study participants with a story about driving at night that ended with the critical sentence “With the lights on, you can see more.” In a separate story about stargazing, the same critical sentence was modified to read “With the lights on, you can see less.” Although that statement is accurate in the context of stargazing, the idea that turning on the lights would cause a person to see less is a much less familiar concept that defies default knowledge.
The researchers also presented versions of the stories in which the critical sentences were swapped so that they did not fit the context of the story. For example, the story about driving at night would include the sentence “With your lights on, you can see less.”
They then watched how the brain reacted to the inconsistencies, based on mood.
They found that when participants were in a negative mood, based on survey responses, they displayed a type of brain activity closely associated with reanalysis.
“We show that mood matters, and maybe when we do some tasks we should pay attention to our mood,” Lai says. “If we’re in a bad mood, maybe we should do more detail-oriented things, like proofreading.”
Study participants completed the experiment twice: once in a negative mood and once in a happy mood. Each trial was conducted one week apart, with the same stories presented each time.
“These are the same stories, but in different moods, the brain sees them differently, with the sad mood being the most analytical mood,” Lai says.
The study took place in the Netherlands; the participants were native Dutch speakers and the study was conducted in Dutch. But Lai believes his findings translate across languages and cultures.
By design, the study participants were all women, because Lai and her colleagues wanted to align their study with existing literature that was limited to female participants. Lai says future studies should include more diverse gender representation.
Meanwhile, Lai and his colleagues say that mood can affect us in more ways than we previously thought.
Co-authors are from the University of Utrecht and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.
Source: University of Arizona