Monday, January 28, 2008

good mood= compromised working memory?

A recent study mentions that when people are in good mood, they are likely to choose from amongst the first of the options presented, if asked to choose on the run. However, if they are asked to withhold evaluation till all the alternatives are presented, then they chose the last item presented.

A new study in the February issue of the Journal of Consumer Research people finds that consumers in a good mood are more likely than unhappy consumers to choose the first item they see, especially if all the choices are more or less the same.

The researchers also found that when happy consumers were asked to withhold judgment until all options were presented, they tended to prefer the last option they saw.


To me this appears very much like the recency and primacy effects. Their working memory is so much compromised , due to their good mood that they resort to the heuristics of recency/ primacy to determine their decisions.

The above theory may seem outrageous at first glance, but there are studies suggesting that people are bad decision makers when in good mood and that working memory compromise may be the underlying factor.

A good mood may be bad for people faced with problem-solving tasks that demand a high degree of logical thought and planning, according to a study.

Researchers say the brain may be too busy retrieving "feelgood" memories to enhance the positive mood to focus fully on the task in hand. Someone in a neutral mood can devote themself solely to problem solving, they argue.


According to Mike Oswald, when in good mood, good memories are brought into consciousness and this intrudes with the limited working memory thus temporarily incapacitating it.

Dr Oaksford, who will receive the BPS Spearman Medal today for his work on human reasoning, said that the positive mood state may be affecting the brain's capacity for "working memory" - a space devoted to thinking, planning, and problem solving - as good memories are being retrieved at the same time.

"It is like a having a blackboard to work your problems out on but your memory is writing on that blackboard at the same time," he said


This compromising of working memory due to good mood may also explain the working memory deficits found in those suffering from Mania/ psychosis. This may also underlie their jumping to conclusions sort of thinking as they pick the first alternative that comes to mind. Also this may explain their irritable and impatient mood, where they just go for decision making without withholding judgment as the first option itself seems promising and does not get critical evaluation. The direction may even be reverse- due to irritability and good mood (manic style) associations, one may choose the first alternative and this may appear like the primacy effect. However the directionality may be it seems evident that good mood comes accompanied with bad decisions. If the relation is exclusively that of working memory overrode with primacy and recency heuristics we can devise better decision making guidelines for those suffering from Mania.

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