How mood affects the brain

"In those days when we have a bad mood, we often think that work or study is more difficult than usual. However, science still does not know exactly how much the mood actually affects our productivity, "says psychologist Sophie von Stumm of London's Goldsmiths University.

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To learn more about this relationship, von Stumm conducted a study in which 98 people, mostly students (24 men and 74 women, average age 24) took part. Participants were required to undergo a set of tests every day for 5 days (from Monday to Friday), checking their short-term memory, working memory, speed of information processing. They also had to assess their mood and emotional state on a PANAS scale on a daily basis (for this they needed to indicate how intensively on a five-point scale they experience each of 10 positive and 10 negative emotions).

The results showed that both mental performance and mood of subjects could change significantly on different days.However, there was no clear connection between these changes - a low mood was not directly related to poor performance. However, those participants, who on average had the best mood for all five days, showed better results in the tests than the rest. Von Stumm suggests that a propensity for a stable and good mood and high mental performance may have a common genetic nature, and a reduced mood begins to affect labor productivity only in more severe cases.

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"Scientists know areas of the brain and neurotransmitters that are associated with mood, but we know very little about the genetic causes of mood swings. At the same time, the mood is usually subject to stronger changes than our personal traits, but these personal traits determine how and in what direction our mood usually changes. For example, a personality trait such as neuroticity-that is, a tendency to depressive and anxious emotional states-usually leads to more private mood swings, "says Sophie von Stumm.

The study was conducted for a limited period of time, and the results can be considered only preliminary. To get more data on mood and performance relationships, von Stumm and her colleagues developed a special application for Apple devices called moo-Q, with which volunteers can independently take tests to check their mental performance, answer questions about their moods and share this information with researchers, while maintaining anonymity. In the first two weeks, the application downloaded more than 11,000 users.

For more information, see S. Von Stumm, "Is day-to-day variability in cognitive function coupled with day-to-day variability in affect?", Intelligence, vol. 55, March-April 2016.

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Text: Nikolay Protsenko
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