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Press Release
Being in a good mood may lead to poor memory
Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Credit: Jens Lagner

Most people have had trouble remembering something they just heard. Now, a University of Missouri researcher found that forgetfulness may have something to do with being in a good mood. Elizabeth Martin, a doctoral student of psychology in the College of Arts and Science, has found that being in a good mood decreases your working memory capacity.

"Working memory, for example, is the ability to recall items in a conversation as you are having it," Martin said. "This explains why you might not be able to remember a phone number you get at a party when you are having a good time. This research is the first to show that positive mood can negatively impact working memory storage capacity. This shows that although systems in the brain are connected, it is possible to affect one process but not others."

Researchers gauged study participants' mood before and after showing them a video clip. Some participants were shown a segment of a stand-up comedy routine, while others watched an instructional video on how to install flooring. Following the videos, those that viewed the comedy routine were in significantly better moods after viewing the video, while the mood of those that viewed the flooring video had not changed.

After watching the videos, both groups completed a memory test. This test provides several numbers to a participant through headphones at a rate of four numbers per second. After the recording stopped, participants were asked to recall the last six numbers in order. Those that watched the comedy routine and were in a better mood performed significantly worse on the task.

"While working memory storage is decreased, being in a good mood is not all bad," Martin said. "Being in a good mood has been shown to increase creative problem-solving skills and other aspects of thinking."

Martin said future research should analyze the impact of mood on working memory storage capacity in real life situations, such as a classroom setting.


"The Influence of Positive Mood on Different Aspects of Cognitive Control," was published earlier this year in the journal Cognition and Emotion.

University of Missouri-Columbia:

Thanks to University of Missouri-Columbia for this article.

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Lisette H.

Guest Comment
Thu, Mar 31, 2011, 12:25 pm CDT

Wow, I have so many thoughts about the implications of this finding.  First off, hooray for any conclusive research that could improve our classroom settings.  In order for us to become evolutionarily competitive, we need to start altering the mode in which our children are learning.  If we can somehow understand how to teach children important information through the adjustment of the mood in the classroom (ie: dimmer lights, breathing exercises before class, deeper tones or music in the background), they will retain information so much more effectively!  Opposite to that would be, if we provide an upbeat atmosphere, creativity will soar (if that is the goal of course). Secondly, with regards to mental health, for those with mood disorders, I often find they are very intelligent and this finding would absolutely conclude as to why.  As a worker in the mental health field and have noticed that many with mood disorders, although they, perhaps have a chemical imbalance, can also sometimes choose to be moody, and maybe for good reason?  Could it be to subconsciously overcome the poor memory associated with being in a good mood?  If so, this would imply that moodiness is a learned behavior (that which can be unlearned); a very very exciting revelation for the mental health world!  Thirdly, with regards to relationships, for those who find themselves often in a bad mood around their partner, it may again, be a learned trait in order to maintain their level of power or control over their own mind and memory.  As we know for many, loss of power in a relationship is a deep-rooted fear. Education of these findings to those would help couples work through each other's short-comings perhaps.

Thank you for this article/study and continued advancement into understanding the human mind. I have been waiting for a study like this to come about!

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