How analytical thinking improves

Bad mood woman at work

People who are in a negative mood may be more efficient at detecting inconsistencies in the things they read, according to new research.

According to research from the University of Arizona, when you’re in a bad mood, you may want to focus on tasks that require attention to detail, such as proofreading.

A new study, published in Limits in communication, led by the University of Arizona, suggests that people with negative moods are more likely to notice inconsistencies in what they read. This study builds on existing research into the way the brain processes language.

Vicky Lai, assistant professor of psychology and cognitive sciences at UArizona, teamed up with researchers in the Netherlands to investigate the differences in how people’s brains respond to language when they are in a positive versus a negative mood.

“Mood and language seem 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 when people are in a negative mood, they are more cautious and analytical. They investigate what is actually in a text and do not just fall back on their standard world knowledge.”

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

The participants then listened to a series of emotionally neutral audio recordings of four-sentence stories, each containing a “critical sentence” that supported or violated standard or known word knowledge. That sentence was displayed word for word on a computer screen, while the participants’ brain waves were monitored using 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 phrase “With the lights on, you can see more.” In a separate stargazing story, the same critical phrase was changed to “With the lights on, you can see less.” While that claim is accurate in the context of stargazing, the idea that turning on the lights would cause one to see less is a much lesser-known concept that defies common knowledge.

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

They then watched how the brain reacted to the inconsistencies, depending on mood.

They found that when participants were in a negative mood, based on their survey responses, they showed a type of brain activity closely related to reanalysis.

“We’re showing that mood matters, and maybe we should pay attention to our mood when performing certain tasks,” Lai said. “If we’re in a bad mood, maybe we should do things that are more detail oriented, like proofreading.”

Study participants completed the experiment twice — once in the negative mood condition and once in the happy mood condition. Each trial took place one week apart, with the same stories each time.

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

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

By design, the study participants were all women, as Lai and her colleagues wanted to align their study with existing literature that 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 realized.

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

“When they think about how their mood affects them, a lot of people just think of things like being grumpy, eating more ice cream, or — at best — interpreting someone else’s conversation in a biased way,” van Berkum said. “But there is much more going on, also in unexpected corners of our heads. That’s really interesting. Imagine your laptop being more or less accurate as a function of battery level – that’s unthinkable. But in human information processing, and presumably also in (information processing) of related

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