Happy people make better, faster decisions: study

There used to be a saying written on some shopping bags that said, "When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping."

But a study published Thursday in the Journal of Consumer Research has found that it's better to go shopping when the going's not so tough, and we're in a good mood, because we make faster and more consistent decisions.

Researchers Paul Herr and Derrick Davis of Virginia Tech, Christine Page of Skidmore College and Bruce Pfeiffer of the University of New Hampshire conducted a study to determine how mood influences the "very basic element of decision-making" - deciding whether or not we like or dislike an object.

The authors manipulated study participants' moods by showing them pictures of positive things, like cute puppies, or unpleasant things, like diseased feet, and then showed them pictures of common objects, one at a time.

The objects were flashed on a screen and then replaced by a word - like, dislike; good, bad; favorable, unfavorable; appealing, repulsive.

The participants were asked to press a key labeled 'yes' if the word matched their feeling about the object they had just seen, or the key marked 'no' if it did not.

The researchers found that people who were in a good mood - probably the ones who had seen the pictures of puppies, not diseased feet - responded more quickly and more consistently to the words.

In other words, if they responded that they liked an object, they were less likely to respond later, when the same object was shown again but with a negative word associated with it, that they disliked it.

The study's findings are relevant not only to shoppers, who might want to hit the mall when they're in a good mood because it will mean they'll get home faster and are unlikely to regret their purchases, but also to retailers and manufacturers.

Because retailers want shoppers to spend more in their stores, they "may want to be aware of factors that can induce negative moods, like abrasive salespeople and negative shopping environments," the authors of the study say.

And the study's findings may help manufacturers to understand why some new products fail where others succeed: it could have something to do with whether consumers like or dislike a new product at first glance, which in turn might be affected by the consumers' moods, something manufacturers could manipulate.

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