Advertising
Advertising

Science Says Bad Mood Improves Memory And Betters Your Judgment

Science Says Bad Mood Improves Memory And Betters Your Judgment

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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[1], found that shoppers who were in a bad mood from poor weather conditions had an easier time recalling details about the stores they visited.

Advertising

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.[2]

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.[3] 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.

Advertising

Reference

More by this author

Lindsay Shaffer

Freelance Writer, Artist, Photographer

Psychology Explains Why Busy People Should Always Make Fun A Priority In Life Having a Mentor Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Smart Enough, It Actually Means the Opposite 10 Best Sites That Offer Gorgeous Free Images for Blogs How You Can Generate The Next Million Dollar Idea By Doodling On A Napkin Do What You Love And Love What You Do; That’s The Only Way To Succeed

Trending in Brain

1 How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential 2 Are You Right-Brain Dominant? (7 Right Brain Characteristics) 3 What Is Creative Thinking and Why Is It Important? 4 How Systems Thinking Makes You a Smarter Person 5 15 Brain Foods That Will Super Boost Your Brain Power

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on March 30, 2020

How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

You may have heard someone say they are “totally right brained” or that they’re “a left brained person.”

There is a pervasive myth that’s been making its rounds for over a century: people have two hemispheres of their brains, and if they have a dominant left brain, they’re more analytical; and if they have a dominant right brain, they are more creative.

Before we go debunking this theory and then giving some tips for how people can access their creative brain centers, let’s first take a look at where the left brain/right brain lateralization theory comes from.

The Left Brain/Right Brain Lateralization Theory

In the 1800s, scientists discovered that when patients injured one side of their brains, certain skills were lost.[1] Scientists linked those different skills to one side of the brain or the other. Thus began the left brain/right brain myth that continues to this day.

Then, in the 1960s and 70s, Roger W. Sperry led 16 operations that cut the corpus callosum (the largest region that connects both brain hemispheres together) in order to try to treat patients’ epilepsy. Sperry wrote about the differences in the two hemispheres as a result of those surgeries.[2]

Sperry’s work was popularized in 1973 with a New York Times article about his lateralization theory—that people were either right brained (read: logical) or left brained (read: creative). From here, Sperry won the Nobel Prize for his work and numerous other publications spread the right brain/left brain myth.

Debunking the Right Brain/Left Brain Myth

If anything, the lateralization theory of the brain is a gross exaggeration. It is true that people have two hemispheres of their brains. It is also true that there are differences in the composition of those two hemispheres.

Advertising

However, the hemispheres are actually much more interconnected than Sperry’s work initially made it seem.

In a 2013 study,[3] scientists scanned over 1000 people’s brains, checking for lateralization. They confirmed that certain brain functions occur predominately in one hemisphere or the other but that, in reality, the brain is actually much more interconnected and complex than the right brain/left brain lateralization theory makes it seem.[4][5]

A New Metaphor for Right Brain/Left Brain

How do we get past this right brain/left brain myth?

First, let’s look at what contemporary cognitive science says about brain regions, and creative and logical modes of thinking.

My background is as an improviser and improv researcher. I wrote Theatrical Improvisation, Consciousness, and Cognition and think looking at improvisation and the brain can shed light on a new model for talking about unlocking the brain’s creative potential.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans have shown that while trained improvisers improvise (musically on a keyboard, rapping, and comedic improvisation) an interesting shift happens in their brain activity. [6]

A region called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex decreases in activity and creative language centers such as the medial prefrontal cortex increase in activity. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is linked with conscious thoughts—that inner voice that tells you not to say something or criticizes you when you do.

Advertising

The medial prefrontal cortex is among the brain regions linked with creativity. So, instead of thinking about right brain and left brain, perhaps it’s more current and correct to think about more specific brain regions instead of hemispheres. Perhaps, it’s more useful to think about which activities and strategies will allow us to inhibit our dorsolateral prefrontal cortexes and allow our medial prefrontal cortexes to flourish.

How to Enhance Your “Right Brain” — Creativity

Whether we’re talking about right brain versus left brain, creative versus logical, or medial prefrontal cortex versus dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, we still know enough to talk about strategies to tap into your creative brain’s full potential.

So, now that we’ve dispelled the right brain/left brain myth and looked at a more contemporary, cognitive neuroscience theory of brain regions and creativity centers, let’s look at how to tap into the potential of your creative brain.

1. Performing Arts

One way to tap into your creative brain centers is to participate in the performing arts. Whether you improvise, act, or dance, the performing arts allow you an embodied experience that will help you snap out of your habitual, logical thoughts.

Another benefit of the performing arts is that it changes your attention. Attention and creativity are inextricably linked. When we improvise, act, or dance, we have to focus intently on our fellow performers. This means we are forced to focus less on our conscious, logical thoughts. This frees us up for more creative thinking and expression.[7]

One of the conclusions of my research on improvisation is that focusing intensely on fellow improvisers and the task at hand makes it more likely that we experience a flow state. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi,[8] a Professor of Psychology and Management defines flow as an optimal psychological state when our skills match the difficulty of the task at hand. Our perception of time is altered as we get into the zone and become more present and in the moment during our chosen activity.[9]

A flow state is a creative state. It’s the opposite of crunching numbers and forcing ourselves to work out a problem with the conscious regions of our brain. So, get up, improvise, act, or dance to access your creativity.

Advertising

2. Visual Art

Art teacher Betty Edwards[10] wrote a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Here again, we see that a shift in our attention can lead us to an increase in our creative thinking.

Edwards’ book gives art students tricks to shift the way they see the world. For example, one exercise encourages students to literally flip whatever it is they’re drawing upside down before they draw it. This forces budding artists to literally see the object in a new way. This shift allows them to focus more on the individual components and patterns of the object, which allows them to draw it better.

Shifting how we see things is another way we can access our creative brain centers. Take an art class to shut off your conscious, critical thoughts and start seeing things from a new, more creative perspective.

3. Zone Out

If there’s one thing creativity doesn’t like, it’s being coerced.

I think we’ve all felt that awful feeling of trying to force ourselves to be creative. When we force it, we’re really trying to force our logical brain regions to be creative. It’s like asking your gardener to perform your appendix surgery. It’s just not what she does.

Instead, stop forcing it. Take a break. Take a long walk or a relaxing bath or shower. Let your mind wander.

Whatever you do, stop forcing it. This break lets your creative centers rise to the surface of your attention and get heard.

Advertising

4. Practice Mindfulness

The final trick to start accessing your so-called right brain is to practice mindfulness.

Now, there’s a lot of different ways to go about mindfulness. You can take a more physical approach with a yoga class. Or you can try meditating to become more aware and in tune with your thoughts and feelings: Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly

You could also try to incorporate fun mindfulness exercises[11] into your everyday routine like forcing yourself to go on detours or pretending you’re a detective who needs to examine people and places closely.

Any way you do it, mindfulness exercises and training can help you become better versed in how your brain works and what your normal thought process is like on a day-to-day basis. If we’re ever going to reach our optimal creativity, we have to become an expert in how our individual brain functions. Mindfulness is one way to become your very own brain expert.

Mindfulness also has added benefits like calming us, slowing our breathing, and helping us become more observant, which are also great ways to start tapping into our creative potential.

Final Thoughts

So, it may not be correct to say that our right brain is our creative brain, but it is still a valid pursuit to try to optimize our creative brain centers.

The key to do so is to relax, become observant, shift your perspective, move your body, try something new, and, whatever you do, don’t force it.

Creativity can feel slippery. It can abandon us when we need it most, but by slowing down and looking at things from a new perspective, we can give ourselves a better chance of tapping into our ultimate creativity, even if that doesn’t exactly mean our “right brain.”

More Tips on Boosting Creativity

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next