Two new good-mood payoffs: memories, decisions improve

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Researcher Ellen Peters
Researcher Ellen Peters

Boosting the mood of seniors helps them do better on decision-making and working-memory tests, researchers have found.

In the first study to demonstrate how a positive mood can help older adults with brain tasks, scientists examined 46 adults ages 63 to 85. Half were given a thank-you card and two small bags of candy tied with a red ribbon when they arrived at the lab. The other half were not.

The group induced into a positive mood then sat at a computer that had a background screen featuring smiling suns and a blue sky. Neutral mood participants saw round images with no face. Subsequently, the participants who had been put into a positive mood did better on a decision-making test and a working-memory test. 

“Our findings are potentially important for their indication that simple positive inductions can improve cognitive functioning and decision performance among older adults, as other work has shown they do for younger populations,” the authors wrote. 

Previous studies indicated positive feelings are associated with dopamine release to areas of the prefrontal cortex implicated with better decision-making; that positive feelings can improve thinking and performance in college students and adolescents; and that environmental influences can preserve cognitive abilities.