Get out of that funk - Persistent bad mood leads to poor health

May 09, 2002

MANHATTAN -- We've all known what it's like to have the blues.

Depression and anger can make you sick, literally. But a new study at Kansas State University shows that some people take longer to snap out of it -- which can lead to health problems -- while cheerful people tend to stay happy longer.

Psychologists have known for a while that some people experience emotions more intensely than others. But little was known about how people differ in the amount of time they experience an emotion before it fades away, said Scott Hemenover, an assistant professor of psychology at K-State.

In the past, neurotic people were defined by how strongly they felt depressed or angry, not how long those emotions lasted. Likewise, extroverts were defined by how strongly they felt happy, not how long they felt happy. Extroverts are also associated with sociability and the desire to seek excitement.

Hemenover performed a study that found that people with different personality types have different rates of mood decay. People with neurotic tendencies hold on to a bad mood longer than other people. Extroverts tend to stay in a positive mood longer than average people.

"For example, if I go to a funny movie with a friend, we will both be happy after the movie. But after 20 minutes, I might still be happy and my friend has faded to neutral because I'm more extroverted," Hemenover said.

Hemenover presented a report on his study at the Midwestern Psychological Association conference in Chicago May 3. The study can give a clue on improving the health of people who have problems with negative emotions like anger or depression, Hemenover said.

"Maintaining a negative mood for a long period of time is harmful to your health. People think that getting stressed and anxious is bad for you. The key isn't how stressed you are, but how long you are stressed," he said. "Staying stressed for a long time can impair your immune and cardiovascular functions."

Hemenover said people who tend to stay in a bad mood for a long time can learn to use strategies that will help them snap out of it faster.

"Neurotics see the world as a nasty place. If you teach them to view the world in a positive way, and to think their way out of feeling bad by rephrasing things in a positive way, it can help their health," Hemenover said.

Kansas State University

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