A Good Mood May Boost Seniors' Brain Power
The participants could also accept or reject the top card of the deck that was offered to them. Their goal was to win as much money as they could. The participants were not told what the card values were. Instead, they had to learn through trial and error. The researchers noted they were looking to see how quickly the participants would learn which decks won them money and which ones didn't.
The study revealed that the older adults whose spirits were lifted with a thank you note and candy performed much better at the decision-making test than the other participants.
"We used an experiential task because real life is experiential," Peters explained. "For example, you meet a new person and she is like one of these decks of cards. You don't know anything about her and you have to learn if she is someone you can trust. What this study suggests is that people who are in a good mood are going to learn faster and make better decisions."
The participants also performed a memory test. They listened as a group of random numbers and letters were read aloud to them and had to repeat the sequence back in numerical and alphabetical order. For instance, if they heard T9A3, they would have to repeat back 39AT. As the test progressed, the participants were challenged even more with larger sequences they had to memorize.
Again, the study showed that the participants who received the mood-boosting gift achieved higher scores.
"Working memory is important in decision making. If you're working your way through different options, how much you can remember of each option -- and can therefore compare and contrast in your head -- has a big impact on how well you can make a decision," Peters pointed out. "Given the current concern about [mental] declines in the aged, our findings are important for showing how simple methods to improve mood can help improve cognitive functioning and decision performance in older adults, just like they do in younger people."
The researchers noted that the participants' speed of processing and vocabulary were not affected by a better mood. And although the study found an association between improved mood and better thinking skills, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.