Good Mood Improves Memory and Decision Making

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

‰ÛÏThere 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‰Ûªt sure that a good mood would be able to help older adults,‰Û 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 VÌ_stfjÌ_ll of Link̦ping 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 ‰ÛÏneutral mood‰Û 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!