Being in a bad mood may make you a better eyewitness, say researchers at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

Their study, believed to be the first to assess the effect of mood on memory and thought, found that when people are in a good mood, their memory is less reliable and they have poorer judgment and critical thinking skills.

However, when feeling sad, they can recall details more accurately and show superior judgment and communications skills.

The Theory

"Recollection of past events is more likely to be contaminated by irrelevant information when we are in a positive mood," says study researcher Joseph Forgas. "A positive mood is likely to trigger less careful thinking strategies."

He says these findings make evolutionary sense. "This supports the idea that mood states are evolutionary signals about how to deal with threatening situations. That is, a negative mood state triggers more systematic, more attentive, more vigilant information processing," Forgas says.

"By contrast, good moods signal a benign, non-threatening environment where we don't need to be so vigilant."

Emotions Bias Sense of Smell

Your emotional state may influence your reaction to a scent, such as whether you think a particular perfume smells good.

Researchers at Brown University exposed people to various scents as they played a computer game. When the study participants were having a good time playing, they were more likely to report that they liked the scent. If they were having a bad game, they were more likely to say they disliked the same scent.

"As humans, we're not immediately predisposed to respond to a scent and believe that it is good or bad. When we like or don't like a smell, that is learned," says lead researcher Rachel Herz, a visiting assistant professor of psychology.

For example, "some people may smell a rose and be reminded of their father's funeral," she says. "Others may like the smell of skunk because they have a positive attachment to it from childhood."

There are only a few exceptions to the emotions-odor perception theory. For example, people immediately dislike irritating odors, such as ammonia.

How to Handle Strong Feelings

Punching a pillow—or similar cathartic I techniques—may increase aggressive feelings rather than dissipate them.

Better than catharsis: Expressing your feelings verbally or in writing in a constructive way—preferably before anger builds ... looking closely at situations that provoke your anger to see whether you can view them differently.

Example: If a driver cuts you off, it is not directed at you.

Helpful image for managing anger: Visualize a fish in a pond. A hook drops down. The fish can bite...or it can move on. Tell yourself, "That's a hook"...and choose not to bite.

Important for parents: Violent video games increase aggression...and violence on TV, even in cartoons, interferes with learning constructive ways to deal with anger.

Want to Keep Reading?

Continue reading with a Health Confidential membership.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in