Sad mood and response inhibition

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Jake Slater King (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Rosemery Nelson-Gray

Abstract: Theories contradict each other by predicting either facilitative or detrimental effects of sad mood on cognitive outcomes. For instance, affect-as-information models hold that sad mood encourages detailed and analytical processing styles, thereby improving cognitive abilities; and resource allocation models predict that sad mood harms cognitive abilities due to sad thoughts that tax limited resources such as attention and working memory. The present study explores these questions by exploring sad mood and one type of cognitive ability—response inhibition (RI). The few studies examining the link between RI and sad mood are mixed in outcome. Understanding whether and how sad mood affects RI will help determine the veracity of theories that predict different cognitive performance outcomes during sad mood, contribute to understanding psychological problems that involve deficits in RI, and inform our ability to measure cognitive constructs such as RI accurately. Further, the strength of a person’s ability to regulate their own emotions affects the degree to which emotional states affect their behavior. Thus if sad mood affects RI, emotion regulation may moderate the strength of this effect. This study examines how sad mood and emotion regulation affected RI in a sample of 273 undergraduate psychology students. About half of participants went through a neutral induction where they wrote about a typical day, and the others went through a sad mood induction where they wrote about a sad event they experienced. Emotion regulation was measured with a questionnaire, and an RI composite score of three computerized tasks (Stroop color-word, Stop Signal Task, and Go/No-go) was calculated using Principal Components Analysis. The first hypothesis predicted that sad mood would either increase or decrease RI. The second hypothesis predicted an interaction: that poor emotion regulation would increase this association in the direction of the main effect (or in either direction if there is no mood main effect). These a priori hypotheses were not supported, but results from post hoc analyses showed that though self-ratings of sad mood did not affect RI, writing about sad events (the experimental condition) seems to worsen RI—perhaps due to participants being distracted by sad thoughts. This result is consistent with cognitive load theories and literature suggesting that cognitive loads, rumination, and mind-wandering are detrimental to cognitive functioning. Further, it extends these findings from well-established areas such as working memory to the less-established area of response inhibition.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2017
Cognitive control, Emotion regulation, Executive function, Inhibitory control, Response inhibition, Sad mood
Emotions $x Psychological aspects
Emotions and cognition

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