Mood May Affect Reading Comprehension

Being able to comprehend written text is vital to functioning in society. “Whether it involves perusing a television guide, studying tax forms, or examining a news website, learning about the world requires comprehension of written materials,” said Catherine M. Bohn-Gettler of Wichita State University and David N. Rapp of Northwestern University. “Just as importantly (and perhaps even more so), reading is a crucial element of successful learning in more formal educational settings.” The authors of a new study designed to examine if reading comprehension is affected by an individual’s mood, said, “Mood has also been associated with achievement, such that positive emotions tend to increase learning.”

They wanted to test their theories because they believe it is an area of research that has not received enough attention. “To date, research on text processing in educational and cognitive psychological domains has focused predominantly on cognitive influences on comprehension and, in particular, those influences that might be derived from particular tasks or strategies,” said the team. “However, there is growing interest in documenting the influences of emotional factors on the processes and products of text comprehension, because these factors are less likely to be associated with explicit reading strategies.”

The researchers enlisted 100 undergraduates for the study. They assigned them to three groups, happy, sad or neutral mood. The groups watched clips of movies aimed to induce the three specific moods. They were then instructed to read text and perform specific comprehension and memory tasks relating to the text, including read aloud tasks. The findings revealed that the participants in the neutral mood group engaged in less paraphrasing and exhibited less coherent processing techniques. The participants in the sad and happy mood groups paraphrased more, and were able to recall more details from the text than their neutral counterparts. “The results from this experiment demonstrate that mood may influence the processes that readers rely on during comprehension and can influence post-reading memory,” said the researchers.

Bohn-Gettler, C. M., & Rapp, D. N. (2011, June 20). Depending on My Mood: Mood-Driven Influences on Text Comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0023458

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • Jon


    August 9th, 2011 at 3:58 AM

    While our mood definitely plays a role in how we see and understand things,I expected the performances of the three groups to be in the following order:

    But the results of the study differ.I'm surprised that even those with a negative mood performed on par with those with a positive mood and better than those with a neutral one.

  • ginger


    August 9th, 2011 at 4:35 AM

    This is so correct! There are days when I have to do nothing but read material to get ready for a presentation at work, and if I am in a foul mood I find myself reading the same page again and again because it just won’t get through that bad mood of mine and sink in. I really do have to be in the right frame of mind to be a success with those kinds of assignments, and you know we all have those days when that just is not going to happen.

  • ANNE


    August 9th, 2011 at 11:15 AM

    It’s so hard trying to study something with a bad mood.It’s a universal thing I know but it feels so ugly when you really need to et through a particular topic for a test but you are not able to do that because of some event that has turned your mood off!

  • Susan Lewis

    Susan Lewis

    August 9th, 2011 at 9:50 PM

    That’s interesting and takes me back to my days of cramming for exams in college. So is this saying that it’s not so much the type of mood that you experience-e.g. happy or sad-which aids comprehension but the intensity of the feeling?

    Because feeling neutral is on a par with having no strong feelings either way, unlike those in the happy or sad groups, and the neutral group performed less well.

    That’s my understanding of that anyway. Which should make tax time so much easier because that always makes me sad LOL. ;)

  • Staci Cornell

    Staci Cornell

    August 9th, 2011 at 10:37 PM

    I certainly don’t think I could absorb anything better if I was in an unhappy frame of mind. When you’re angry, you will find fault in just about anything and it disturbs your focus.

    I could do triple the amount of work in front of an angry boss and he would say “Well you’ve been lazy” before saying anything nice or praising me. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on paperwork for the rest of the day.

  • CaveMan


    August 9th, 2011 at 11:58 PM

    Its a lot easier to read something and understand it when there’s nothing on your mind.Even a lot of happiness distracts me to be honest…I would be able to study best when there is nothing else on my mind,whether negative or positive feelings.

  • donna


    August 10th, 2011 at 4:42 AM

    If I am in a bad mood then forget it!

    I don’t want to even read a good book, much less anything that may involve a little thinking!

  • JS


    August 10th, 2011 at 1:26 PM

    If you’re someone like me, then the mood doesn’t really affect the comprehension of what you’re reading.My mind is always wandering and a bad mood often evaporate like gasoline on a hot day!

  • Maxwell Benson

    Maxwell Benson

    August 13th, 2011 at 8:01 PM

    You need a clear mind regardless of what you’re reading or else you’ll be subject to some form of bias influencing you.

    Good or bad, when you’re dealing with things like contracts and tax forms you need to look at it from a neutral point of view and not allow your emotions to affect you.

  • astridwatt


    August 13th, 2011 at 8:40 PM

    @Maxwell Benson: What about a negative point of view? If you point at a clause and highlight that it’s not in your best interests to accept the conditions contained therein, you just might dodge a few bullets. Reading with a skeptical eye isn’t always a bad thing and can protect you.

  • L.F.


    August 14th, 2011 at 3:39 PM

    High earning salespersons are masterful about spotting emotional and non-verbal reactions, especially body language signals. After you give off what’s known as a buying signal they’ll sweet talk you into a purchase with promises of a great service at a low price. Every good salesman can tell when a customer’s reading a contract how they feel about it.

  • t.t. robb

    t.t. robb

    August 14th, 2011 at 8:54 PM

    Perhaps this is why a book that makes you cry buckets of tears can become a popular bestseller when logically you would think that would be avoided because it evokes such a reaction. It is actually grabbing your attention and people are appreciating it instead of reading passively.

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