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 Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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