Does Being Happy Make You Forgetful?

Elizabeth Martin, a doctoral student of psychology, conducted a study that reveals that being in a good mood may decrease your working memory capacity. “Working memory, for example, is the ability to recall items in a conversation as you are having it,” Martin said. “This explains why you might not be able to remember a phone number you get at a party when you are having a good time. This research is the first to show that positive mood can negatively impact working memory storage capacity. This shows that although systems in the brain are connected, it is possible to affect one process but not others.”

The study involved dividing test subjects into two groups. The first group was shown a comedy video, while the second group watched a less entertaining instructional video on the steps required to install flooring. After each grouped viewed the videos, the group that watched the comedy video was in a much better mood. The mood of the second test group had not changed. Both groups were then given a memory test requiring them to recall a series of numbers that had been played to them through headphones. The group who had watched the comedy video performed far worse than the group who had viewed the installation video.

Although these results showed that being happy may decrease your memory, Martin goes on to say that there are benefits to being happy that may outweigh the negative impact on memory. “While working memory storage is decreased, being in a good mood is not all bad,” Martin said. “Being in a good mood has been shown to increase creative problem-solving skills and other aspects of thinking.” Martin believes that future research will reveal how these findings can be applied in different settings, such as in classrooms.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • georgia

    April 5th, 2011 at 1:32 PM

    never experienced or observed something like this myself but if true it may happen because the individual is not really paying much attention to the thing to be registered in memory because he is too busy thinking of the happy thing…?

  • Watkins

    April 5th, 2011 at 7:02 PM

    Now this is one undesirable thing. And I’m pretty sure this is more pre slant in some people and not the others. I most certainly fall in the second category because I’ve never experienced something like this. Yes, I’ve not conducted a test with other subjects but just saying…

  • Joanne W

    April 6th, 2011 at 4:40 AM

    Weird. I would have thought the opposite to be true. You know, you are in a bad mood and nothing will do, all you can think about are the things that are bugging you. You are not in tuen with anything except how bad you personally are feeling. Looks like there would be a decrease in memory then too.

  • Paula

    April 6th, 2011 at 12:54 PM

    If I’m at a get together or party with friends and Am having a good time,I tend to remember everything that happened in the party basically because I was happy. But add something new to remember to the scene and I can’t remember that…Maybe because too much of my brain is just happy with the elation…

  • Richard

    April 7th, 2011 at 10:54 AM

    I sometimes let things slip my mind when I’m in a good mood.It’s small things like picking up dry cleaning on the way home. End result, I get yelled at for forgetting and my mood is spoiled for the rest of the day. Why human brains work in such an annoying way I will never know.

  • Iain

    April 9th, 2011 at 10:34 AM

    @Richard–I know what you mean. I was at a birthday party last month and I forgot the name of my uncle’s lifelong best friend. I had to avoid calling him by his name for three hours and he was the one the party was being thrown for! Worse, my part of the cake had his name on it and I ate it before thinking to look at it LOL.

  • Fran

    April 10th, 2011 at 7:51 PM

    It might just be about paying attention. If I was watching something boring, I’d zone right out and not keep it on my mind. Our memory has limits, doesn’t it? I’d be remembering the comedy so I can tell my friends–unless I was fascinated by flooring LOL.

  • nina

    April 11th, 2011 at 4:29 PM

    Now my boss has a reason to keep us all on our toes, claiming we’ll all remember to fill up the coffee pot. I’m only joking. He isn’t that bad…just old-fashioned. :)

    And if I gave a guy my phone number at a party and he said he forgot it because he was having a good time, I’d smack him for not paying more attention. ;)

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