Friday, 17 April 2009

Gloomy moods better for memory

People are more likely to accurately remember details about their surroundings when in a gloomy mood, researchers have found.

The study was conducted over a two-month period at a suburban newsagency in Sydney, where 73 shoppers were asked to recall small background objects that they had encountered on the check-out counter.

On rainy, cloudy days, the researchers arranged for sad music to be played in the store to reinforce shoppers' negative moods. On bright, sunny days, customers heard happy music.

Researchers found that customers on rainy, cloudy days could list three times as many objects as those on sunny days. More importantly, the negative group's recall was far more accurate as well.

"Mild, fleeting moods can have a profound yet subconscious influence on how people think and deal with information," said Joe Forgas, a University of New South Wales professor who conducted the research.

"Being happy tends to promote a thinking style that is less focused on our surroundings. In a positive mood, we are more likely to make more snap judgments about people we meet," he said. "We are more forgetful and yet we are paradoxically far more likely to be over-confident that our recall is correct."

"Mild negative mood, in turn, tends to increase attention to our surroundings and produce a more careful, thorough thinking style," he said.

Forgas noted that accurately remembering mundane, everyday scenes is a demanding task and one that can be of crucial importance in certain situations, for example in forensic and legal practice.

More information is available from the University of New South Wales's press release.

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