Feeling Moody? Here’s Why.

Moods are fleeting, volatile. They come and go at the drop of a hat. But beneath the surface, research suggests, they serve a deeper purpose. #brain #mindfulmagazineapr16

Source: Feeling Moody? Here’s Why.


Compared to powerful influences on how we think and act—such as personality, character, values, principles, and emotional style—mood might seem a little wimpy. It feels shifty, evanescent, transitory—no more enduring than a bank of fog. Upbeat people can descend into a sad mood and cranky ones can experience a joyous one, but in both cases it will pass, leaving no more trace than that fog in the morning sun.

A burgeoning science of mood is here to disabuse you of that belief (and perhaps give solace to those with mood disorders who find the effects of their moods anything but wimpy). Not only can moods, even ones that are at odds with our typical emotional state, leave lasting imprints on our mental and physical health; they also influence how we perceive the world and learn from experience—a function that, new research suggests, may explain the mystery of why we even have moods and why we don’t always want to immediately shake off negative ones.

When people feel down, they don’t necessarily want to cheer up right away, as the seeming paradox of sadness and sad music shows: Most of us aim for happiness (whatever our personal definition of that), yet when feeling down we swipe through our iTunes downloads for a most heartstring-tugging tune (Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven”? Itzhak Perlman’s rendition of the theme from Schindler’s List?). Researchers at Ireland’s University of Limerick asked scores of people why they did so.

One reason was a desire for connection, for a sense that someone else (the composer, other listeners) had experienced grief such as theirs—a realization that keeps a sad mood from feeling isolating. Other participants in the 2013 study, published in Psychology of Music, said they “wanted to stay with those emotions for a while until I was ready to let go of them,” as a twenty-something woman explained. “I didn’t want music that would cheer me up.” Others said that sad music helped them experience that mood longer and more intensely, a pre-requisite for leaving it behind. One woman said she played sad music “in order to cry a little and then feel relieved and move on,” while another said it “encourage[d]me to feel the pain . . . plus allow me to have a good cry,” adding that “it probably did not make me feel better at the time, but may have helped me cope overall.”

It’s ridiculously easy to trigger a mood, and to go out of one just as quickly. And yet these slippery states can have profound consequences on how we see the world, and whether we take risks or tread gingerly.

Those reasons for wanting to deepen, even sharpen, one’s sad mood are among the many hints that all moods, up as well as down, have a role to play in helping us navigate the world. Indeed, among scholars of human behavior, it’s a bedrock assumption that when an experience is extremely common it must serve a purpose. In evolutionary biology terms, it’s adaptive.

Mood is so prevalent in our lives, lying just beneath the surface of any moment, that it’s ridiculously easy to trigger one. Music, weather, news, traffic, sporting events, thinking about ourselves, making facial expressions, fleeting interactions with strangers (why did that couple take up so much of the sidewalk that I had to walk in the gutter?)—all affect our mood.

And that can have powerful consequences. When people feel happy, enthusiastic, or excited they tend to take more risks, including financial ones. Feeling down, by contrast, makes us more likely to choose the safe bet. (Keep that in mind next time you have to make decisions about investing for retirement or setting aside money for medical expenses.) Sadness and disappointment make us more likely to pay attention to and be affected by negative information. When you’re feeling low, all news is bad, all friends act selfishly, and every stranger is cutting in line.

Moods are so powerful they can shape how we feel about something as basic as our age. People felt older on days when they experienced more bad moods, researchers reported last year in Psychology & Health. Low moods tip us toward thinking more analytically than creatively and intuitively. Being in a cheerful mood makes us think we’re particularly empathic, better able to, for instance, judge the emotional tone of a speaker (even though that confidence outstrips our actual capability), a 2014 study in PLOS ONEfound.

Nothing shows the power of mood more dramatically than how it affects something supposedly stable, if not fixed: personality. In a 2014 study, researchers gave 98 volunteers a standard personality test and had them watch a 10-minute video—neutral or upbeat (families reunited after the fall of the Berlin Wall) or sad (scenes from the movie Philadelphia, where the Tom Hanks character dies of AIDS). They then repeated the personality test. After watching sad scenes, volunteers scored notably higher on one of the Big Five personality traits, neuroticism, and somewhat lower on two others, extraversion and agreeableness, compared to their scores when their mood had not been manipulated, the researchers reported in BMC Psychology.

Why would our brains have evolved not only to experience bad moods at something as trivial as a loss by our favorite sports team, but also to be so deeply affected by these reactions? Because—say researchers led by Yael Niv of Princeton University in a 2016 paper in Trends in Cognitive Sciences—moods “bias how we perceive outcomes.” Moods both positive and negative “serve an important role” of helping us learn from experiences.

Our brains get a hedonic hit not from plain old rewards and good outcomes, but from rewards and outcomes that exceed our expectations. The old dogma was that dopamine was released in the brain when we experienced something positive, such as food or sex or a promotion. But now scientists know that dopamine is actually released when outcomes exceed our expectations. (Hence my own preferred outlook on life—expect everything to turn out terribly. But I digress.) “Happiness depends not on how well things are going,” Niv and her colleagues explained, “but whether they are going better than expected.”

As we learn from experiences, we adjust our expectations accordingly. If things turn out better than expected, the dopamine hit and the resulting good mood encourage us to try for more of it. For instance, making surprise gains in the stock market improves a trader’s mood, leading her to take more risks, thereby taking advantage of a rising market. The reverse is also true: Sustaining a loss triggers negative emotions; those make us back away, protecting us from worse to come. In both cases mood pushed us toward the optimal behavior.

The idea that even negative moods can be adaptive, leading us away from repeating some stupid behavior, might seem at odds with the longstanding belief that being in a bad mood is bad for health. Those who are frequently in an angry, anxious, or sad mood do tend to have worse health, a classic 1989 study found, perhaps because those moods are stressful and stress can take a physical toll. But negative moods don’t adversely affect everyone. People who see meaning and value in bad or sad moods tend to suffer less from them, a 2015 study published in the journal Emotion found.

Enjoy the sadness. Embrace disappointment. Find empowerment within grouchiness. Your mind evolved to be moody. Don’t deny it.

This article also appeared in the April 2016 issue of Mindful magazine.

Sharon Begley is a senior science writer with The Boston Globe Media Group, author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, and coauthor with Richard Davidson of The Emotional Life of Your Brain. She writes a regular column for Mindful magazine called Brain Science.


Fads and Crazes, Trends and Rages: Why we’re always looking for the next best thing | Easy Street

by Dr. Donna Roberts


The Story

“I feel like that’s been done before,” chimes Heidi Klum to the hopeful designer facing Project Runway’s latest red carpet gown challenge. And just like that, hope flies out the proverbial window, replaced by the dread of knowing he may be the newest ex-runway contestant. It’s a grave sin, this offense of not being completely new and original. In this design competition, one must “take risks” and show the judges something they “haven’t seen before” to be considered worthy of remaining in the competition.

We see this behavior in humans from cradle to grave. Children of all ages abandon last years’ stand-in-line-for-sixteen-hours-on-Black-Friday-must-have-toy for the next shiny new obsession. And adults … well, if we’re honest, we exhibit much of the same behavior. A closet full of clothes and nothing to wear. The cliché “57 Channels and nothing on,” which is more like 357 channels these days, but who’s counting? The latest and greatest model of smartphone that is only ever so slightly different, and yet different enough that it makes our “old” (as in 18 months old) phone seem so distasteful and archaic. Like the toddler with his passé toy we are bored with what we have and want the next distraction, especially if everyone else wants it, and especially if it is scarce.


Psych Pstuff’s Summary

Psychologists consider novelty seeking a character trait that encompasses a propensity toward pursuing new experiences and unfamiliar situations, and is often related to adrenaline seeking. It is also associated with extraversion and openness to experience in personality scales, and inversely related to tolerance for boredom and routine.

In today’s super-fast-paced society, this relentless pursuit of the new and different is praised and encouraged, with words like innovative, adventurous and curious defining these individuals, while its opposite is mostly considered old, stodgy and boring.

As with many evasive concepts, we try to nail down a precise meaning and hierarchy, to force order upon that which is seemingly orderless. So it is with the nomenclature for the many aspects of what hits the mark in popular culture.

Styles generally refer to overarching aspects of the presentation of a product and are considered the most enduring, or at least recursive, of these typically fickle phenomena.

Fads or crazes represent specific products or patterns of collective behavior that tend to rise rapidly in popularity for a finite, and usually relatively short, period of time. They can develop an enthusiastic, sometimes cult-like following, and include a broad spectrum of marvels such as diets, toys, clothing, make-up, hairstyles, food, music, sports and daredevil activities.

A fashion represents a middle ground between these two poles. It reflects the current popular trend, but is more pervasive across a particular category and can have a longer duration of popularity.

For those who love a good graphical depiction, LearnMarketing.net provides the differing rise and fall of popularity in these related cycles.

Despite the specificity of this nomenclature, and the predictability of the lifecycles, a bit of mystique still surrounds the phenomena of fads. Just what is it that makes something—especially something seemingly … well … ridiculous (e.g., the pet rock, to note one particularly nonsensical craze) turn into an overnight sensation that one simply cannot live without … at least until the next big thing comes along? Consumer behavior has always had a bit of a black box mystery to it. Research on consumer behavior shows that most people don’t even know why they do things, don’t accurately report their preferences, don’t follow through with their purchase intentions, and often cannot adequately explain why they buy the things they do.

It’s a curious mixture—the way we respond to things and the way we respond to the way other people respond to things. Several psychological concepts seem to touch on a part of the explanation.

The social psychology phenomena known as information cascade leads to the reactive group behavior referred to as the bandwagon effect. Information cascades occur when the observed behavior of others causes individuals to behave in a similar manner, even when that behavior contradicts their own thoughts, beliefs or preferences. Cornell professors David Easley and Jon Kleinberg, in their book Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World, note that “a cascade develops when people abandon their own information in favor of inferences based on earlier people’s actions.” The bandwagon effect refers to the increasing rate at which the ideas, fads and trends, propagated by the information cascade, spread as more and more people adopt the behavior, i.e., hop on the bandwagon.

Another behavioral phenomenon that drives the proliferation of fads is the scarcity principle, whereby the perceived rarity or difficulty in obtaining an item fuels the both urgency to acquire, and its perceived value. Combined with the reactance theory, which describes how individuals’ motivation to obtain or participate in something increases with the notion that the choices are restricted, it explains why people react to “limited time only” or “limited supply” offers, when they might otherwise not respond so enthusiastically.

According to Karen M. Douglas in Encyclopedia of Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, “Researchers argue that people follow fads and fashions as a result of both informational social influence (where they incorporate useful information from others about what is acceptable and desirable) and normative social influence (where they adopt the acceptable behavior or desired object so that they themselves are accepted and liked by others).”

From hula-hoops to cabbage patch dolls to fidget spinners. From goldfish swallowing to streaking to twerking. From Elvis to the Beatles to Miley Cyrus. From marbles to FarmVille to Pokémon Go. Our collective obsessions represent the power of social conformity and our need to connect through shared experience, for better or worse.

As Muppet creator Jim Henson, once noted “Nobody creates a fad. It just happens. People love going along with the idea of a beautiful pig. It’s like a conspiracy.” And, who could argue with Miss Piggy?

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