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Good Mood Improves Memory and Decision Making

Posted Apr 19 2013 9:00am
Older adults can improve their decision making and working memory simply by improving their mood.

Researchers found that easy mood-boosters -- like giving people a small bag of candy -- helped seniors do significantly better on tests of decision-making and working memory .

Ellen Peters

“There has been lots of research showing that younger adults are more creative and cognitively flexible when they are in a good mood. But because of the cognitive declines that come with aging, we weren’t sure that a good mood would be able to help older adults,” said Ellen Peters , co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University .
The study was done with Stephanie Carpenter of the University of Michigan ; David Västfjäll of Linköping University in Sweden; and the late Alice Isen, of Cornell University . It appears in the current issue of the journal Cognition and Emotion .
The study involved 46 adults aged 63 to 85. Half of them were put into a good mood by receiving a thank-you card and two small bags of candy, tied with a red ribbon, when they arrived at the lab for the experiment. The other “neutral mood” participants did not receive a card or candy.

The participants completed the study on a computer. Those who were induced into the positive mood had a background screen that was designed to help keep them feeling positive -- it featured smiling suns on a sky-blue background. The neutral-mood participants had a similar background, but with neutral round images with no face.

In the decision-making task, the findings were clear: older adults who were put into a good mood chose significantly better than those who were in the neutral mood.

Later in the experiment, the researchers tested working memory -- how much information people can hold in their mind at any one time. Researchers read aloud a group of intermixed letters and numbers and participants were to repeat the group back in numeric and then alphabetic order. Results showed that the older adults who were induced into a good mood scored better on this test of working memory.

I think the operative word here is "induced." We can't always induce people into a good mood. So how do you go about helping people to improve their mood overall? Well maybe you start by showing them studies like this one!
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