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Emotions both enhance and impair higher cognition

Posted Apr 14 2011 1:50pm

A study reported in the journal Psychological Science concluded that watching funny videos on the internet at work isn’t necessarily wasting time.

“People may be taking advantage of the latest psychological science — putting themselves in a good mood so they can think more creatively.

“Generally, positive mood has been found to enhance creative problem solving and flexible yet careful thinking,” said Ruby Nadler, a graduate student at the University of Western Ontario.

[See more in my post Go ahead – watch funny videos .]

In her article Mood Swing: How feelings help and hurt , Kaja Perina [Psychology Today] reports on another study, at Washington University (WU) in St. Louis, in which “subjects viewed pleasant, neutral or anxiety-inducing video clips, then performed cognitive tasks while their brain activity was monitored by functional magnetic resonance imaging.”

One of the research study co-authors, Jeremy Gray, Ph.D., noted “It’s not simply that emotion ‘hijacks’ cognition but that emotions both enhance and impair higher cognition in very specific ways.”

Results indicated that anxiety enhances visual and spatial performance, and subjects who viewed a horror movie clip scored better on tests of face recognition than subjects who watched comedies. But watching comedies led to an improvement in verbal performance.

Perina also notes that the book Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot: Unleashing Your Brain’s Potential by neuropsychiatrist Richard Restak, M.D. “provides 28 tips on strengthening mental acuity and, when necessary, turning emotion to one’s advantage.”

So what are emotions and moods?

In his article Why Do We Have Moods? , Morty Lefkoe writes, “This mental state first became an issue in my occurring courses where the participants and I were trying to identify all the factors that seemed to influence how reality ‘occurred’ for us, in other words, what determined the meaning we gave events as we experienced them, moment by moment?

“We realized that probably the major source of our occurrings was our beliefs and conditionings.  Other relevant sources included our physical condition and our ‘moods.’  But when we tried to state specifically what we meant by a mood and where our moods came from, we were stumped.”

But, he adds, “After a lot of thinking and a bunch of research, I came up with a few ideas, which I’d like to share with you… Moods seem to be like emotions in some respects and different in other respects. They both can be positive or negative. Moods tend to last longer than emotions.

“Usually emotions are set off by a specific stimulus (in the case of stimulus conditionings) or by the meaning we give specific events at the time.”

His Lefkoe Belief Method is acclaimed by many personal development leaders including Jack Canfield, as a program to overcome the most common limiting beliefs and conditionings.

For more info, see Lefkoe’s site ReCreate Your Life .

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Faces image related to the emotional recognition work of Paul Ekman.

Also see post: Dacher Keltner on positive emotion and living a good life . Keltner (PhD in Social Psychology, Stanford University) has worked with Paul Ekman, and is a professor in U.C. Berkeley’s Psychology Department.

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