Does being sad, or complaining, make you smarter?

by on November 3, 2009 at 5:36 am in Science | Permalink

I have yet to read this study but I found the summary intriguing:

Bad moods can actually be good for you, with an Australian study finding that being sad makes people less gullible, improves their ability to judge others and also boosts memory.

The study, authored by psychology professor Joseph Forgas at the University of New South Wales, showed that people in a negative mood were more critical of, and paid more attention to, their surroundings than happier people, who were more likely to believe anything they were told.

"Whereas positive mood seems to promote creativity, flexibility, cooperation, and reliance on mental shortcuts, negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking paying greater attention to the external world," Forgas wrote.

"Our research suggests that sadness … promotes information processing strategies best suited to dealing with more demanding situations."

Furthermore:

The study also found that sad people were better at stating their case through written arguments, which Forgas said showed that a "mildly negative mood may actually promote a more concrete, accommodative and ultimately more successful communication style."

I thank Claire Hill for the pointer.

So all you sad people can cheer up now.  Or not.

EJR November 3, 2009 at 7:27 am

So perhaps the miserable lawyer is the effective lawyer.

anon November 3, 2009 at 8:27 am

I agree with Matt.

Sadness, depression and honesty with self: correlation and causation? Causation in which direction?

btw Tyler and Alex – your book popups by GetGlue (in both the right and left hand columns) are very annoying. And anyone who clicks on them is giving the Amazon affiliate credit not to MR, but to adaptiveblue-20, which is GetGlue.

Bill November 3, 2009 at 8:58 am

I think this really is a restatement of the work on the difference between optimists and pessimist/realists. Sad persons are more pessimistic and realistic; optimists are happy.

Now, what is interesting on the optimism/pessimism research is: optimists are more successeful.
Why: because they are unrealistically perseverant; they don’t quit when they realistically should and give the extra effort because they believe they will succeed.

Pessimists don’t begin; realists get what they deserve and are observant of detail.
In fact, the studies show you want a realistic CFO, and an optimistic sales person.

Edward Burke November 3, 2009 at 11:15 am

One and all: cf. Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. (NYRB published its welcome edition in 2001.)

Chris November 3, 2009 at 12:29 pm

@IVV: Maybe the people who fail cease to be optimists (you can sort of see how they might) and so aren’t counted in the statistics on successfulness of optimists? I don’t know how those studies are conducted. Obviously if you measure attitude after success/failure has already occurred you have a big problem, but longitudinal cohort studies are expensive and time-consuming so it’s always tempting to do something you can do with a quick questionnaire and a computer statistical package and let the media distort the results into something sensational.

people in a negative mood were more critical of, and paid more attention to, their surroundings than happier people, who were more likely to believe anything they were told

The implications for the financial crisis are obvious. Bull markets make investors happier, and therefore dumber. That’s why it’s hard to take away the punch bowl from all those happy people convinced that more punch (or leverage) is good for them.

Clearly, all future Fed chairs should be required to have some chronic condition that keeps their mood down to rationally non-exuberant levels. If necessary, drugs could be applied. If this succeeds for Fed chairs, it could also be applied to fiduciaries in general, to keep them from overexposing the interests of stockholders, etc., to happiness-based investment strategies.

Bill November 3, 2009 at 9:00 pm

The research on optimism is in a book by a psychology professor at Pennsylvania named Seligman. His book is entitled “Learned Optimism.” I think the sadness objectivity would fit in his findings.

Carennedy November 4, 2009 at 12:21 am

All this study proves is that data can be manipulated to mean anything….. this study sounds like a waste of money and time

emster November 10, 2009 at 2:45 pm

I think you’ll find that the presence of stoicism, forgiveness and acceptance in the lives of profoundly contended people and even the simple act of getting older suggest that this study may well be a ridiculous over-manipulation of raw data which could be used to prove almost anything.

You’ll also find from studies of depression that unhappiness is often a self-generating state of mind that invents its own causes.

sammy January 30, 2010 at 12:22 am

If you really want to be concluded about that study which you are not sure what is correct or wrong about those facts, i would wholeheartedly say that depression may make people much stronger than the past time they were into.It’s that much strong for a person rather than not to be able to careless for any of the issues that they face. Problems solving and putting efforts on it would make people think way better and feel suspicious about what they process of the edge

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