They set out to manipulate study participants’ moods by showing them clips from a sad movie – ‘Sophie’s Choice’ – or a funny television show – ‘Friends.’ A computerized survey was used to evaluate participants’ moods before and after watching the clips.
They found that participants’ moods did not get affected while the funny clips were played, whereas the sad clips succeeded in putting participants in a more negative mood.
The participants then listened to a series of emotionally neutral audio recordings of four-sentence stories that each contained a ‘critical sentence’ that either supported or violated default, or familiar, word knowledge.
That sentence was displayed one word at a time on a computer screen, while participants’ brain waves were monitored by EEG, a test that measures brain waves.
Researchers also presented versions of the stories in which the critical sentences were swapped so that they did not fit the context of the story. They then looked at how the brain reacted to the inconsistencies, depending on mood.
Feeling and Speaking: Mood Effects on Verbal Communication
They found that when participants were in a negative mood, based on their survey responses, they showed a type of brain activity closely associated with re-analysis.
Study participants completed the experiment twice – once in the negative mood condition and once in the happy mood condition. Each trial took place one week apart, with the same stories presented each time.
These are the same stories, but in different moods, the brain sees them differently, with the sad mood being the more analytical mood.
The study was conducted in the Netherlands where the participants were native Dutch speakers and women, but researchers believe their findings translate across languages and cultures. In future studies, they try to include more diverse gender representation.
When thinking about how mood affects them, many people just consider things like being grumpy, eating more ice cream, or – at best – interpreting somebody else’s talk in a biased way. But there’s much more going on, also in unexpected corners of our minds. That’s really interesting.
Imagine your laptop being more or less precise as a function of its battery level – that’s unthinkable. But in human information processing, and presumably also in (information processing) of related species, something like that seems to be going on.