Whether the Weather Be Fine Or Not Actually Matters: How the Weather Influences Decisions
Maria Konnikova is the New York Times bestselling author of The Confidence Game (Viking/Penguin 2016) and Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (Viking/Penguin, 2013). She is a contributing writer for The New Yorker, where she writes a regular column with a focus on psychology and culture, and her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, California Sunday, Pacific Standard, The New Republic, WIRED, and The Smithsonian, among numerous other publications. Maria is a recipient of the 2015 Harvard Medical School Media Fellowship, and is a Schachter Writing Fellow at Columbia University’s Motivation Science Center. She formerly wrote the “Literally Psyched” column for Scientific American and the popular psychology blog “Artful Choice” for Big Think. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, where she studied psychology, creative writing, and government, and received her Ph.D. in Psychology from Columbia University.
It’s been raining and gloomy since Saturday night. I think the change of weather is nice. I don’t mind. But my brain does. And whether or not I know it, it sends signals, triggered by this gray and misty environment, that will affect—sometimes subtly, sometimes more strongly—my decisions and my reactions.
I couldn’t be sad because of the weather; it must be because I’m unhappy in general
In 1983, Schwarz and Clore published a seminal study on the effects of weather on mood. They found that on sunny days, people reported themselves to be happier and to have higher life satisfaction than on rainy days. Why? They misattributed the source of their mood (the weather) to life satisfaction in general, and so decided that they must be happier and more fulfilled – or on the flip side, sadder and less content overall. (However: all it took was a simple question during the phone interview, “How’s the weather there?”, and the effect became muted: once someone's attention was drawn to the actual cause of the mood, it was less likely that the mood would be misattributed).
How weather effects spill over into decision making
The repercussions of the weather-mood-satisfaction connection are vast. Not only does weather change how you feel and how you think you feel, but it can change the way you think and act.
Weather can affect college admissions
For instance, research into college enrollment decisions has shown than on rainy days, students looking at potential colleges pay more attention to academics and are more likely to judge an institution on that basis. But it goes further than that: for every standard deviation in cloud cover on the day of the college visit, a student is 9% more likely to actually enroll in that college. In other words, gloomy weather increases the chance that, down the road, you will pick the school you visited. Here, the misattribution of weather-related mood isn’t just a throwaway measure. It actually plays an important role in a crucial life decision (of course, it’s not the only factor; but it’s certainly one to keep in mind).
Weather can affect financial decisions
Or, consider this: some traders trade differently on sunny days than they do on rainy days. When the weather turns gray, they become more risk-averse. Enter the sun, more risk-seeking. Much research, from as far back as twenty years ago, has actually drawn correlations between weather and stock market movement, and while such work in no way proves causation, it does suggest that weather may play some role in how financial professionals assess their risk-return models and in the choices they make on any given day (of course, this depends on how they trade in the first place; only those who make daily trades should show any effect).
Weather can affect job success
Other evidence suggests that weather can play an important role in certain elements of job success. Specifically, salary negotiations are more likely to be successful on days when the weather is better and interview candidates are more positively evaluated on sunny days than on rainy days. In both cases, the mood of the decision maker may be subtly influenced by the weather, but he, without being aware of it, could be misattributing it to something else, such as his liking of a job candidate or his evaluation of an employee’s performance.
It’s easy for our mood to be affected by the environment without our awareness
Irrelevant stimuli matter. And we use momentary affective states (how happy or sad we might be feeling at a specific point in time) to make much broader judgments that could have wide-reaching implications for our lives.
The weather should, if we are to be rational, play no role whatsoever in our happiness, our judgment of life, our decisions on college, jobs, or finances. But it does; and it is just one of the many irrelevant factors than can subconsciously influence our thought process in any given situation.
It’s quite difficult, if not impossible, to try to block out all irrelevant information when we make a decision or form an opinion. Humans are not cold, rational reasoning machines, nor should they be. But at least consider how pivotal such influences can be – and who knows, you might even be able to use them to your advantage.
Next time you want a raise, make sure to ask for it when the sun is shining high and the sky is clear. Leave the rainy days for playing the stock market – as the gloom sinks in, just do the opposite.
[photo credit: Creative Commons, hiilx]
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