Older adults may improve their decision-making and working memory simply by maintaining a positive mood. Stephanie M. Carpenter, from the University of Michigan (Michigan, USA), and colleagues enrolled 46 adults, ages 63 to 85 years, in a study to assess the role of mood on cognitive skill.

Half of the subjects were put into a good mood by receiving a thank you card and two small bags of candy, tied with a red ribbon, when they arrived at the lab for the experiment. The other “neutral mood” participants did not receive a card or candy. The participants completed a computer-based study. They also participated in a decision-making task, where the participants were given $3 in quarters and presented with eight virtual decks of cards over the course of experiment. The researchers wanted to see how quickly and accurately the participants would learn which decks generally won them money, and which decks lost them money. The findings were clear: older adults who were put into a good mood chose significantly better than those who were in the neutral mood. Later in the experiment, the researchers tested working memory — how much information people can hold in their mind at any one time. Researchers read aloud a group of intermixed letters and numbers (such as T9A3) and participants were to repeat the group back in numeric and then alphabetic order (in this case, 39AT). The participants received groups with increasingly more letters and numbers. Results showed that the older adults who were induced into a good mood scored better on this test of working memory. The study authors conclude that: “These effects of positive-feeling induction have implications for affect theory, as well as, potentially, practical implications for people of all ages dealing with complex decisions.”

References:

  1. Stephanie M. Carpenter, Ellen Peters, Daniel Vastfjall, Alice M. Isen. “Positive feelings facilitate working memory and complex decision making among older adults.” Journal: Cognition & Emotion; Volume 27, Issue 1, January 2013, pages 184–92.

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