Being moody may help us adapt to change

November 03, 2015

It's long been known that mood biases our judgments and perceptions, but this effect has usually been regarded as irrational or disadvantageous. A new theory published November 3 in Trends in Cognitive Sciences argues that mood draws on experiences and can, in fact, help us quickly adapt to changes in our environment. For example, experiencing unexpected gains on the stock market should improve a trader's mood. That positive mood may then cause the trader to take more risks, essentially helping her adapt more quickly to a market that is generally on the rise.

According to the new theory, as people learn from experiences that are colored by their mood, their expectations come to reflect not only the reward associated with each particular state (such as each stock), but also recent changes in the overall availability of reward in their environment. In this way, the existence of mood allows learning to account for the impact of general environmental factors.

"This effect of mood should be useful whenever different sources of reward are interconnected or possess an underlying momentum," says one of the study's lead authors, Eran Eldar of University College London. "That may often be the case in the natural as well as in the modern world, as successes in acquiring skills, material resources, social status, and even mating partners may all affect one another."

Eldar and his colleagues note that positive or negative moods maximize their usefulness by persisting only until expectations are fully in accordance with changes in rewards. (That may be why happiness eventually returns to a baseline level even following highly significant changes in circumstances, including winning the lottery.)

For instance, a negative mood that persists may cause a person to perceive many subsequent outcomes as worse than they really are, leading to a downward spiral. This might turn mood into a "self-fulfilling prophecy" and lead to the onset of a depressive episode. Therefore, by defining a potential function for mood and describing the learning processes that underlie it, the new theory may lead to a better understanding of the causes of mood disorders.

"We think that this novel approach may help reveal what predisposes particular individuals to bipolar disorder and depression," Eldar says.

Because moods are ubiquitous and have significant impacts on our lives, it is likely that they have conferred a significant competitive advantage throughout the course of evolution. Being moody at times may be a small price to pay for the ability to adapt quickly when facing momentous environmental changes.
-end-
This work was funded in part by the Wellcome Trust's Cambridge UCL Mental Health and Neurosciences Network grant, the Max Planck Society, and an Army Research Office award.

Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Eldar, Rutledge, Dolan, and Niv: "Mood as Representation of Momentum" http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2015.07.010

Trends in Cognitive Sciences (@TrendsCognSci), published by Cell Press, is a monthly review journal that brings together research in psychology, artificial intelligence, linguistics, philosophy, computer science, and neuroscience. It provides a platform for the interaction of these disciplines and the evolution of cognitive science as an independent field of study. For more information, please visit http://www.cell.com/trends/cognitive-sciences. To receive media alerts for this or other Cell Press journals, please contact press@cell.com.

Cell Press

Related Learning Articles from Brightsurf:

Learning the language of sugars
We're told not to eat too much sugar, but in reality, all of our cells are covered in sugar molecules called glycans.

When learning on your own is not enough
We make decisions based on not only our own learning experience, but also learning from others.

Learning more about particle collisions with machine learning
A team of Argonne scientists has devised a machine learning algorithm that calculates, with low computational time, how the ATLAS detector in the Large Hadron Collider would respond to the ten times more data expected with a planned upgrade in 2027.

Getting kids moving, and learning
Children are set to move more, improve their skills, and come up with their own creative tennis games with the launch of HomeCourtTennis, a new initiative to assist teachers and coaches with keeping kids active while at home.

How expectations influence learning
During learning, the brain is a prediction engine that continually makes theories about our environment and accurately registers whether an assumption is true or not.

Technology in higher education: learning with it instead of from it
Technology has shifted the way that professors teach students in higher education.

Learning is optimized when we fail 15% of the time
If you're always scoring 100%, you're probably not learning anything new.

School spending cuts triggered by great recession linked to sizable learning losses for learning losses for students in hardest hit areas
Substantial school spending cuts triggered by the Great Recession were associated with sizable losses in academic achievement for students living in counties most affected by the economic downturn, according to a new study published today in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

Lessons in learning
A new Harvard study shows that, though students felt like they learned more from traditional lectures, they actually learned more when taking part in active learning classrooms.

Learning to look
A team led by JGI scientists has overhauled the perception of inovirus diversity.

Read More: Learning News and Learning Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.