Feeling good keeps the brain too busy to solve problems

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The Independent Online

Health Editor

A good mood may be bad news for an individual faced with problem-solving tasks that demand a high degree of logical thought and planning, according to a study.

Researchers say that the brain may be too busy retrieving "feelgood" memories to enhance the positive mood to focus fully on the task in hand. Individuals in a neutral mood can devote themselves solely to problem solving, they argue.

A team from the Department of Psychology at Warwick University analysed the reasoning performance of three groups of individuals whose moods had been manipulated with television programmes into feeling good, bad or neutral.

Each group was then given a reasoning task; the neutral mood group performed well, but the positive and negative mood states of the other two groups affected their performance.

The groups were then asked to complete a reasoning task and carry out another function simultaneously. The same results were noted.

In a third experiment the good mood group took longer to complete a psychological test than the other two groups.

Dr Mike Oaksford, a senior lecturer in psychology, who will present the results of the study at the first day of the British Psychological Society Conference in London today, said: "The positive group put as much time into planning their first move as the other groups but their construction of a plan was much less efficient."

Dr Oaksford, who will receive the BPS Spearman Medal today for his work on human reasoning, said that the positive mood state may be affecting the brain's capacity for "working memory" - a space devoted to planning and problem solving - as good memories are being retrieved at the same time. "It is like a having a blackboard to work your problems out on but your memory is writing on that blackboard at the same time, reducing your capacity to solve problems."

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