Study: Being in a bad mood can boost performance
Being grumpy can actually make you a better problem solver, as it boosts executive function. This doesn't give you free range to be a grouch.
A study from the University of Waterloo published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences shows that being in a bad mood can actually be a good thing. Specifically, a bad mood can boost "executive function." Executive function might sound like a black-tie affair for high rollers (forgive me), but it's actually, to quote the National Institute of Health, the ability to "mentally play with ideas" and what WebMD calls "the ability to get things done."
Ninety-six university students took part in the study, completing a series of tests for college credit. The tests included five memory and reaction-time assessment tests, and three questionnaires. Two of the questionnaires were used to assess the bad mood itself and the personality type of the test taker respectively, while the last was for demographic information. For what it's worth, most of the test takers were in their late teens or early 20s.
The study found that highly reactive individuals did better on executive function tasks while being in a bad mood. The study classifies these highly reactive individuals as "those who have rapid, intense, and enduring emotional responses". A perhaps less-PC classification might be "generally moody people."
But why is this? Negative moods promote an analytical thinking style that's very well suited to problem-solving. Psychology professor at the University of Waterloo Tara McAuley posits that these highly reactive people are used to experiencing bad moods and therefore aren't thrown off by them. On the flipside of that, more mellow-headed people are distracted by bad moods because they aren't used to the cloud of negativity hanging over them (must be nice!); they actually performed worse in the series of tests. They did, however, perform better at the memory portion of the series of tests.
Basically, the "moody people" are marginally but detectably better at self-control. Executive functions, as described by Adele Diamond in her landmark 2013 paper on the subject, are "effortful; [as] it is easier to continue doing what you have been doing than to change, it is easier to give into temptation than to resist it, and it is easier to go on 'automatic pilot' than to consider what to do next." People in good moods, one can read from that, are more likely to go on autopilot. (FWIW, Adele Diamond is an absolute wizard in the field of neuroscience and executive functions, as she is the Canada Research Chair Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver — which is a fantastic job title but also means she has to buy very long business cards.)
A caveat to these findings: "a bad mood may help with some executive skills—but only for people who are more emotionally reactive." Which means that you can't just take this study and print it out and post it in the company break room and assume you can get away with being a total grouch. Just because you're in a bad mood doesn't mean that you'll do better at work—it's more that if you're a grumpy person in general then a bad mood won't throw you.
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Good science is sometimes trumped by the craving for a "big splash."
- Scientists strive to earn credit from their peers, for grants from federal agencies, and so a lot of the decisions that they make are strategic in nature. They're encouraged to publish exciting new findings that demonstrate some new phenomenon that we have never seen before.
- This professional pressure can affect their decision-making — to get acclaim they may actually make science worse. That is, a scientist might commit fraud if he thinks he can get away with it or a scientist might rush a result out of the door even though it hasn't been completely verified in order to beat the competition.
- On top of the acclaim of their peers, scientists — with the increasing popularity of science journalism — are starting to be rewarded for doing things that the public is interested in. The good side of this is that the research is more likely to have a public impact, rather than be esoteric. The bad side? To make a "big splash" a scientist may push a study or article that doesn't exemplify good science.
Moans, groans, and gripes release stress hormones in the brain.
Could you give up complaining for a whole month? That's the crux of this interesting piece by Jessica Hullinger over at Fast Company. Hullinger explores the reasons why humans are so predisposed to griping and why, despite these predispositions, we should all try to complain less. As for no complaining for a month, that was the goal for people enrolled in the Complaint Restraint project.
Participants sought to go the entirety of February without so much as a moan, groan, or bellyache.
Two space agencies plan missions to deflect an asteroid.
- NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are working together on missions to a binary asteroid system.
- The DART and Hera missions will attempt to deflect and study the asteroid Didymoon.
- A planetary defense system is important in preventing large-scale catastrophes.
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