Your car breaks down right before a rainstorm hits. You tell yourself to stay positive, but that sour mood starts creeping in. The worst part is, you find yourself feeling badly about your bad mood! Yet, the latest science reveals bad moods might actually be good for you, at least in the short term. Scientists have studied the effects of different moods on our ability to detect lies, remember information, and persevere in difficult tasks. Surprisingly, participants in bad moods, either from rainy weather conditions or emotional priming in the lab, performed better in all three categories.
Our brains are wired to painful memories
When you think about it, bad moods leading to more detailed memories and better judgment makes sense. Our brains are wired to recognize what causes us pain so we can avoid it in the future. During negative moods, your senses are heightened to scan for anything in your environment that may contribute to your discomfort. With your senses taking in more information, your memory is sharpened and your judgment becomes clearer.
It’s important to remember, however, that these studies only focus on the benefits of temporary bad moods. Chronic stress or depression wreak havoc on our health and our ability to enjoy life. If you suffer from chronic low moods, this could be signaling a health condition like depression, or the need to make a change in your life circumstances.
Details in your bad memories help you make judgments
As long as bad moods are fleeting, they do enhance our cognitive abilities in some pretty compelling ways. A 2009 study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found that shoppers who were in a bad mood from poor weather conditions had an easier time recalling details about the stores they visited.
Bad moods do more than just enhance your ability to remember details. They also help you make accurate social judgments, such as correctly guessing if someone is lying to you. In another social psychology study, participants were primed into a negative, positive, or neutral mood by watching various video clips. Afterward, they watched a set of interviews with people who either did or did not steal something. Participants that were primed with a negative mood identified the thief accurately more often than participants primed with positive moods.
Finally, bad moods may increase your willingness to persevere with difficult tasks, and decrease self-sabotage. Scientists studied the frequency of “self-handicapping” – intentionally creating barriers to your own success due to fear of failure – in participants experiencing negative or positive moods. For this study, the scientists offered participants a choice between drinking a tea that would enhance their performance, or a tea that would interfere with their performance. Choosing the tea that interfered with their performance meant they were “self-handicapping.” Scientists also looked at how long participants stuck with a difficult task. Participants in negative moods were less likely to choose the tea that would interfere with their performance, and more likely to persevere longer in the tasks they were given.
Next time you find yourself in a bad mood, take a moment to appreciate the mood for the benefits it provides. Notice if your memory seems sharper, your judgment more accurate, or your determination stronger. You may not enjoy every bad mood, but acknowledging that bad moods serve a positive purpose can help make them less painful. You may just find that the occasional bad mood isn’t so bad after all.
|||^||Surprising Pros and Cons of a Bad Mood, Nancie George|
|||^||On being happy and gullible: Mood effects on skepticism and the detection of deception, Joseph P. Forgas and Rebekah East|
|||^||On being happy but fearing failure: The eVects of mood on self-handicapping strategies, Adam L. Alter and Joseph P. Forgas|