Books Gyaan

Some negatives of a positive mood

Most of us are aware that mood affects what we think. In fact the influence is measurable. But did you also know that our mood impacts how we think as well? It does, and I learnt about it from Kahneman’s new book – Noise.

Thinking Fast and Slow by Kahneman is one of my fav books (part of the top reading list that I curated some time back). So when I saw a new book co-authored by him, I had to read it. I have finished almost 1/3rd of the book and frankly don’t think Noise comes anywhere close to TFaS. The focus is much narrow here (how we judge). But the book does offer some fascinating insights – like those around mood.

Studies have shown that people who are in a good mood are more likely to let their biases affect their thinking.

Noise – A Flaw in Human Judgement

Good mood also makes people more receptive to bullshit and extra gullible. And then there are scenarios where a bad mood is more helpful than a good one. For example in case of crimes, eyewitnesses who are exposed to misleading information are better able to disregard it – and to avoid false testimony – when they are in a bad mood!

We are not the same person at all times. As our mood varies, some part of our cognitive machinery vary with it (something we are not fully aware of). The footbridge problem illustrates this.

The Footbridge problem

Imagine you are on a footbridge. You can see the road below you. There’s traffic. There are five people down there too. You see a speeding truck coming towards them, from behind. They are unaware. The truck will most certainly run them over and they will all be dead. There is no time to shout and warn these five people. But there is one thing you can do. There is a large bodied person on the footbridge right next to you. You can push him off so that he falls and blocks the speeding truck. This will save those five lives but of course the person who you push, will die. What would you do? Would you just see all five die or would you sacrifice one life to save five? That’s the footbridge problem.

From a moral point of view, one choice is utilitarian (Jeremy Bentham) – loss of one life is preferable over loss of five. The other choice is in the realm of Deontological ethics (Immanuel Kant) – killing someone, even in the service of others is prohibited.

Very few people (1 in 10) ever say they would push the person.

But here’s the crazy insight – subjects who were placed in a positive mood (induced by watching a 5-min video game) were three times more likely to say that they would push the person off the bridge.

When we are shown a complex judgement problem, our mood in the moment influences our approach to the problem and the conclusions we reach, even when we believe that the mood has no such influence!

Alright, that’s all I had to share. May be I will have more when I read the remaining 2/3rd. Or may be not. Either way, see you soon.

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