If you’re in a bad mood, it’s better to focus on tasks that are more detail-oriented, such as  B. Proofreading – Zoo House News

If you’re in a bad mood, it’s better to focus on tasks that are more detail-oriented, such as B. Proofreading – Zoo House News

  • Science
  • January 15, 2023
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When people are in a negative mood, they may be more likely to spot inconsistencies in what they read, a new study led by the University of Arizona shows.

The study, published in Frontiers in Communication, builds on existing research on how the brain processes language.

Vicky Lai, an assistant professor of psychology and cognitive science at UArizona, worked with collaborators in the Netherlands to study how people’s brains respond to language when they’re in a happy mood or in a negative mood.

“Mood and language appear to be supported by different brain networks. But we have one brain, and the two are processed in the same brain, so there’s a lot of interaction going on,” Lai said. “We show that people in negative mood are more cautious and analytical. They question what is actually said in a text, and they don’t just fall back on their pre-set knowledge of the world.”

Lai and her co-authors set about manipulating the mood of the study participants by showing them clips from a sad movie – Sophie’s Choice – or a funny TV show – Friends. A computerized survey was used to assess participants’ mood before and after viewing the clips. While the funny clips didn’t affect the mood of the participants, the sad clips managed to put the participants in a more negative mood, the researchers found.

Participants then listened to a series of emotionally neutral audio recordings of four-sentence stories, each containing a “critical sentence” that either supported or violated standard or familiar word knowledge. This phrase was displayed word for word on a computer screen while the participants’ brain waves were monitored using an EEG, a test that measures brain waves.

For example, the researchers presented the study participants with a story about driving at night that ended with the critical sentence “You can see more with the light on”. In a separate story about stargazing, the same critical sentence was changed to read, “When the light is on, you can see less.” While this statement is accurate in the context of stargazing, the notion is that turning on of light would cause a person to see less, a much lesser-known concept that defies standard knowledge.

The researchers also presented versions of the stories in which the critical phrases were swapped so that they did not fit the story’s context. For example, the story about driving at night would include the phrase “You can see less with the lights on.”

They then looked at how the brain reacts to the inconsistencies depending on the mood.

They found that participants who were in a negative mood based on their survey responses displayed a type of brain activity that was closely linked to reanalysis.

“We’re showing that mood is important, and maybe we should pay attention to our mood on some assignments,” Lai said. “When we’re in a bad mood, maybe we should do things that are more detail-oriented, like proofreading.”

The study participants completed the experiment twice—once in the negative mood state and once in the happy mood state. Each trial was spaced one week apart, with the same stories presented each time.

“These are the same stories, but in different moods the brain sees them differently, with the sad mood being the more analytical mood,” Lai said.

The study was conducted in the Netherlands; the participants were native Dutch speakers and the study was conducted in Dutch. But Lai believes her findings translate across languages ​​and cultures.

The study participants were all women by design because Lai and her colleagues wanted to align their study with the existing literature, which was limited to female participants. Lai said future studies should include more diverse gender representation.

Meanwhile, Lai and her colleagues say mood can affect us in more ways than we previously thought.

Researcher Jos van Berkum from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands co-authored the study with Lai and Peter Hagoort from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands.

“When they think about how mood is affecting them, a lot of people just think about things like being grumpy, eating more ice cream, or — at best — interpreting someone else’s speech in a biased way,” van Berkum said. “But there’s a lot more going on, including in unexpected corners of our brains. That’s very interesting. Imagine your laptop being more or less accurate depending on its battery level – that’s unthinkable. But in human information processing, and probably species related to it (information processing), something like that seems to be happening.”

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