Ivory Towers: Are you in a good mood for food today?

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The Independent Culture
WHAT did you have for breakfast? That is the favourite question of radio interviewers seeking some babble to set a sound level on their recording apparatus. Recent research, however, suggests that the ability to remember what you had for breakfast may depend on your mood at breakfast time.

'Effect of Induced Mood on Memory for Flavours' (Appetite, 1994, 135-148), by Patricia Pliner and Craig Steverango, reports a study comparing memory for tastes with mood. There is a growing body of evidence linking smell with mood. Childhood memories of smells and tastes tend to relate to the emotional ambience of the experience, while in experimental conditions pleasant and acrid smells have been used to manipulate mood.

The design of the present experiment was to put the subjects (30 male and 30 female) in a good, neutral or bad mood, then give them eight globs of baby food to taste. After a short delay they were presented with 16 globs of spiked baby food, and asked to identify the eight which had previously been sampled. The hypothesis was that subjects in a bad mood would have greater success remembering the bad tastes, while cheerful subjects would identify the tasty flavours.

To set the mood, subjects were asked to read sets of statements which could be positive ('If your attitude is good, then things are good, and my attitude is good'), neutral ('Utah is the beehive state') or negative ('I have too many bad things in my life'), then to recall a recent incident that had evoked the same feelings as those of the statements. Finally, they had to complete the multiple affect adjective list, a set of 132 adjectives of emotion, to express how they were feeling.

The results supported the hypotheses: emotional state was altered by the mood- manipulating part of the experiment, and grumpy people remember bad tastes better than good ones.

'Just as subjects are better at learning verbal material which is congruent with their moods at the time of encoding, so they were better in the present study at recognising flavours that were of the same valence as their mood.' So skip the kidneys tomorrow if you're in a foul mood.