Progressive Thinking Can Boost Mood

According to a new study, conducted by Malia F. Mason of Columbia University and Moshe Bar of Harvard Medical School, the progression of thoughts directly affects mood. The researchers enlisted 77 individuals for a study to determine how thought progression, or lack thereof, affects mood. They said, “Mood affects the way people think. But can the way people think affect their mood?” The participants were presented with two sets of words. One set was comprised of eight progressive word lists and the other set was comprised of eight stagnant word lists. The participants were instructed to read each word to themselves and then to record their mood electronically on a keypad.

“Participants reported feeling significantly greater positive affect following progressive relative to stagnant blocks,” said the researchers. “Results revealed a general trend whereby positive affect declined between the first and the second mood sampling, but only among participants who performed the stagnant block between these two assessment periods.” They added, “No such decline in positive affect was observed among participants who performed the progressive block between these two periods.” They also noted that negative mood was decreased only in the test subjects who viewed the progressive word lists and negative mood remained stable in those who viewed the stagnant lists.

“In summary, these analyses reveal that participants’ moods were relatively better subsequent to information-processing periods that were characterized by mental progression than periods that were characterized by mental constraint,” said the researchers. “Thinking that is broad and that advances in a conceptually coherent manner is likely to be more enjoyable than thinking that is conceptually restricted.” They believe these findings could have positive implications for people with negative moods. They added, “It is theoretically possible that populations with mood disorders and excessive rumination, such as individuals with major depression, can benefit from a processing experience that is associative, broad, and coherent.”

Mason, M. F., & Bar, M. (2011, August 8). The Effect of Mental Progression on Mood. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025035

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

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  • Jacob


    August 25th, 2011 at 3:50 AM

    This is just one of those things that will make you say “oh I kinda knew it”but something you’ve never applied before.The things we think about,now when I think about it,do influence out mood definitely.Sometimes the effect is more pronounced than other times though.

  • Madison


    August 25th, 2011 at 4:07 AM

    Like has been preached for so many years now- you just never know the power of words until you really start to think about them and put those words into action. What a difference a positive and progressive mindset can make!

  • harold


    August 25th, 2011 at 11:33 PM

    is this why creative people are generally happier?I have a friend who is into music.I can say music runs in his blood.he barely has money to survive but he is always traveling and taking part in anything music related.I have never seen a person more happier than him.

  • chris owens

    chris owens

    August 26th, 2011 at 4:21 AM

    if there’s good stuff running through my mind it really makes me happy and lifts my’s a very close-knot thing-think happy and feel happy or think sad and you’ll be sad.that’s exactly why a positive outlook is so important at all times.

  • Weston


    August 29th, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    At the risk of sounding stupid.

    What is a progressive word list and what is a stagnant word list?



  • Penny Drake

    Penny Drake

    August 29th, 2011 at 3:18 PM

    If anyone has ever had bad thoughts, then you know they make you feel terrible in the process and just make the whole situation you’re in worse. Unfortunately telling someone to think happy thoughts at that point is only going to offend them. Perhaps them reading them instead of hearing them does help.

  • Jacquie Schrader

    Jacquie Schrader

    August 29th, 2011 at 5:33 PM

    Reading positive and uplifting works definitely improves your mood. If you stay upbeat about everything you actually get a lot further in life instead of picking out every single fault you can think of and dwelling on it. Grab life by the horns! Stop wallowing in self-pity and put that spine that millions of years of evolution gave you to some use. Stagnation is not an option. Carpe diem!

  • Trevor A. Robinson

    Trevor A. Robinson

    August 29th, 2011 at 5:54 PM

    @Jacob-That’s a problem indeed. Nobody seems to apply anything they know deep down when it could be a huge help. Until they start consciously looking for actual ways to get the results they want, they ignore that wisdom.

    Your thoughts create your reality. That’s a fact. If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can’t, you’re right too. Never underestimate the power of positive thinking.

  • Karen Mooney

    Karen Mooney

    August 31st, 2011 at 9:58 PM

    It really does suck when you can’t think of anything positive. It’s harder to think happy thoughts when you’re feeling upset, and the idealism that your brain comes up with can make you more upset.

    A depressing book sure isn’t going to help you move forward.

  • Morag Murray

    Morag Murray

    September 2nd, 2011 at 2:35 PM

    “Like has been preached for so many years now- you just never know the power of words until you really start to think about them and put those words into action. What a difference a positive and progressive mindset can make!”

    @Madison–exactly! If more people realized that and put it into practice in a beneficial way I wonder how much things would change in this country,and indeed the world. We would probably stop criticizing ourselves and others so much and that would be a heck of a start.

  • camilla faulk

    camilla faulk

    September 3rd, 2011 at 9:03 PM

    @Morag Murray–That makes sense. Our society is too used to calling people out on their faults and deeming that acceptable instead of being civil, explaining what they are doing wrong and how to fix it.

    I think it’s because they are unhappy with their own lives that rather than do the work to fix it and themselves, they take that anger out on another.

    The internet’s a real haven for such types. You need only read the comments on CNN news articles to see how many haters there are out there, no matter the topic. Those are the stagnant ones: never improving, never moving ahead, because they are too angry at life to see straight.

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