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The Perks of Being Glum

You would think that your thinking cap would operate best when you are in a good mood – it’s probably easier to picture yourself finally typing away on your paper after having a scoop of your favourite ice cream flavour, than studying for an exam after you find out your favourite show has been cancelled. It seems rather commonsensical for good moods to have positive effects on our memory. However, according to research, this may not be so.

Do you ever find yourself distracted when you are actually happy? I, for one, can’t get myself to sit down and study when I’m in a really good mood – I get all giddy and think to myself that there has to be better things to do than memorizing dense concepts when I feel so great. (Solo dance parties in your room, anyone?) This is in fact what recent research is starting to reveal – good moods tend to give rise to poorer memory effects while bad moods are associated with better memory.

Forgas, Goldenberg, and Unkelbach (2009) examined the effects of good and bad mood on cognitive functions. In other words, they investigated the effects of weather-induced moods on memory. Their participants’ moods were ‘manipulated’ through the weather, in which good moods came about from sunny days, and bad moods from cloudy days. Their task was to attend to ten items at the cash register, and recall them after they were done shopping. Their results indicated that those in the cloudy group recalled more items than those in the sunny group. While marketers are busying themselves in finding ways to improve customers’ moods in the hopes of boosting sales, research is telling us that good moods may not always be better.

So is it excusable for you to not feel like working on your assignments after a good day? Yes, to a certain extent. According to the study mentioned, it can even be counter-productive to be studying when you are in a good mood anyway. This isn’t to say that you should go around telling your teachers “I felt too good to work”, and end up failing the course. My advice is to start early – don’t let your bad (or good!) days ruin your mojo. I guess the silver lining after a bad day is enhanced memory, so study away!

Reference: Forgas, J. P., Goldenberg, L., & Unkelbach, C. (2009). Can bad weather improve your memory? An unobtrusive field study of natural mood effects on real-life memory. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(1), 254-257.

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