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The power of positive moods in improving cognitive function among older adults

Past research has shown that developing a positive outlook on the aging process can have a significant effect on a person's overall health, happiness and longevity. Now findings published in the latest issue of Cognition and Emotion suggest that being in a good mood can help boost decision making and working memory in older adults.

In the study (subscription required), which involved individuals age 63 to 85, researchers put half of the participants in a better mood by giving them thank-you cards and bags of candy tied when they arrived for the experiments. Those in the "neutral mood" group did not receive a card or candy.

Participants completed two experiments. The first tested decision making. Individuals were given three dollars in quarters, instructed to play a computer card game and told to win as much money as they could. A follow-up experiment gauged participants' working memory. Researchers fed the participants increasingly long series of letters and numbers and asked participants to state them in increasing numeric and alphabetic order. Science Daily reports:

The findings were clear: older adults who were put into a good mood chose significantly better than those who were in the neutral mood.

These results are significant because this decision-making task was experiential, meaning that the participants knew nothing about the card values at the beginning of the experiment and had to learn through trial and error.


Results showed that the older adults who were induced into a good mood scored better on this test of working memory.


A positive mood did not help these older adults on some cognitive measures, such as speed of processing or vocabulary.

The findings are interesting in light of other studies showing that being in a good mood can increase creativity.

Previously: Study shows practicing tai chi may increase brain volume in healthy older adults, Stanford and USC study shows soy supplements may have no significant effect on cognitive function, More research suggests brain exercises boost cognitive function, stave off dementia and The secret to living longer? It’s all in the ‘tude
Photo by Kyrre Gjerstad

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