In the doghouse for forgetting to send flowers or a card this Valentine's Day? Feeling blue may be to blame.
Researchers at the University of Aberdeen have found that feeling low or sad can make us less likely to remember to carry out everyday tasks – such as posting a letter or returning a call.
In the study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, the team from the School of Psychology monitored how reliable people were at carrying out a task at particular times throughout the day and whether their mood at that time affected the likelihood of them completing the task.
Volunteers were asked to report their mood, from positive to negative, at different times of the day while simultaneously having to remember to send messages at certain time points.
While there is evidence to suggest that mood can affect how well we remember to carry out tasks, this is the first study to look at this in the ‘real-world’, outside of the laboratory setting.
The results showed that how the participants were feeling affected their performance on remembering the task. Specifically, as participants' mood changed from more negative to more positive, they were more likely to remember the task.
Dr Katharina Schnitzspahn, who co-led the study at the University explained: “Remembering intentions such as reserving a table in our partner’s favourite restaurant for Valentine’s Day or which flowers they might like can be valuable to maintain compassionate relationships.
“However, although useful for anniversaries and Valentine’s gifts, this type of intentional memory can also play a crucial role in our daily lives such as in remembering to take medication or book a doctor’s appointment. It is therefore important to understand how changes in mood can impact this function.
“Our results suggest a clear relationship between our emotional states and our cognitive performance and highlights the need to reduce stress and negative feelings in order to help us remember and perform our planned intentions.
“So - leaving the office in a happy mood on Valentine’s Day should make it easier for us to remember buying those flowers on the way home!”
Dr Francesco Pupillo, previously of the University of Aberdeen, now at the Institute of Psychology, Goethe University Frankfurt added: “This is the first time that we have demonstrated how mood can affect prospective memory outside of the laboratory.
“We have known for some time that negative mood can impact our thinking and memory, but this is another piece of the puzzle that shows the potential of positive mood for helping us remember and complete our tasks.
“And, yes, perhaps if you have forgotten a special day, or Valentine's Day – you can maybe get away with it by blaming the pandemic blues.”