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Good Moods Help Enhance Older Adults' Brain Power

Update Date: Jan 30, 2013 11:30 AM EST

No one likes spending time with someone who is in a bad mood. New research indicates that good moods can include benefits that are not just social. The study, conducted by researchers from Cornell University in the United States, Linköping University in Sweden and the University of Michigan, found that being in a positive mood can help boost brain power in older adults. The findings are especially uplifting, considering that older adults are a growing demographic in most portions of the world.

"There has been lots of research showing that younger adults are more creative and cognitively flexible when they are in a good mood. But because of the cognitive declines that come with aging, we weren't sure that a good mood would be able to help older adults," Ellen Peters, a study co-author and professor at Ohio State University, said in a statement.

The study was conducted with 46 adults aged between 63 and 85. Half were encouraged to be in a good mood because, when they arrived at the laboratory, they received thank-you cards and bags of candy tied with ribbon. The others, called the "neutral mood group", did not receive anything. The experiments, performed on computers, also had different backgrounds. In the good-mood group, the desktop was a picture of a blue sky containing suns with smiley faces. The neutral-mood group's desktop also held a picture of a blue sky, but with neutral round images with no faces.

Researchers then performed two experiments. The participants received $3 in quarters and told to win as much money as they can. On the computer screen, there were eight decks, differentiated with marks on the back. Half were "gain" decks, meaning that participants won a quarter 75 percent of the time they chose cards from these decks and 25 percent of the time did not win anything. The other half were "lose" decks, so participants lost a quarter 75 percent of the time. Participants could choose to either accept or reject the card at the top of the deck offered to them. The researchers found that the participants who were in better moods chose their cards significantly better than the participants who were in a neutral mood.

The second experiment tested participants' working memory. Researchers fed the participants increasingly long series of letters and numbers - like T9A3 - that the participants needed to state in increasing numeric and alphabetic order - 39AT, in this case. The good mood group performed significantly better on this task as well.

A positive mood did not benefit seniors in terms of vocabulary or processing speed.

The study was published in the journal Cognition and Emotion.

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