Story at a glance

  • Our experiences help shape our mood.
  • One theory suggests that the most recent events have the most effect.
  • However, researchers who ran two experiments found earlier events had more of an effect than later events.

Events in our day can have a huge effect on our moods. One main theory is that the most recent experiences are the most influential on our mood or that it depends on the types of experiences that are “integrated” over a period of time. A group of researchers set out to test these theories in experiments and came up with a surprising result: Timing of events could be a major factor in how they affect our mood.

To test whether earlier or later events affect mood more, the researchers designed two experiments, published in eLife. The first involved an online gambling game for adult participants. While the participants were playing, they were asked at several points to assess their mood on a sliding scale. Participants received small monetary rewards based on how well they did in the game.

The second experiment was designed for adolescents. They played a similar game but in a laboratory setting while their brain activity was recorded using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology. The researchers had also asked all participants prior to starting the experiments about whether the participants experienced depression so that they could observe any potential differences among them.


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Interestingly, the researchers found that earlier events in the gameplay had more effect on participants’ moods than later events. This was true for both the adult group and the adolescent group, as well as for people with and without depression. The fMRI results also suggested that earlier experiences in the games switched on parts of the frontal part of the brain that is associated with moods.

The researchers hope that more studies focusing on why this is happening could be insightful, as well as studies on how events over a longer period of time affect mood. The experiments lasted for no longer than 40 minutes, according to the paper. They also note that the type of task may be important. As for how their current work could be used, they think it could have implications for how clinicians interact with their patients and assess mental health treatments.


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Published on Jul 05, 2021