STUDY: Bad Moods Make Us More Detail-Oriented

The next time you need to proofread a sensitive document, or a friend asks you to look over an important email for them, it may be a good idea to reflect on a few things in life that make you especially angry. Sounds like an odd strategy, but fascinating new findings from the University of Arizona has found that when we’re in a bad mood, we actually tend to identify literary, or written, inconsistencies in a faster manner.

These findings, which build on prior research investigating how the brain processes language, come via Vicky Lai, an assistant professor of psychology and cognitive science at Arizona. The research team originally set out to analyze and better understand how people’s brains react to language when they are in a happy mood as opposed to being in a negative mood.

“Mood and language seem to be supported by different brain networks. But we have one brain, and the two are processed in the same brain, so there is a lot of interaction going on,” Prof. Lai says in university release. “We show that when people are in a negative mood, they are more careful and analytical. They scrutinize what’s actually stated in a text, and they don’t just fall back on their default world knowledge.”

This led to the discovery that when subjects were in a bad mood, they displayed a variety of brain activity closely associated with re-analysis. “We show that mood matters, and perhaps when we do some tasks we should pay attention to our mood,” Prof. Lai adds. “If we’re in a bad mood, maybe we should do things that are more detail-oriented, such as proofreading.”

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