Have you ever thought about how blessed you are in various aspects of your life when you catch yourself experiencing a good and happy moment? Yes, that happens to me as well.
Believe it or not, this is not a coincidence in our personalities, but a true and very common psychological phenomenon called the “mood congruency effect”. It describes the phenomenon that a person tends to remember information that is consistent with their current mood.
The “mood congruency effect”, however, is not limited to your thoughts or memories, but it can also affect the types of decisions you make. According to Mayer, Gaschke, Braverman, and Evans (1992) who coined the term “mood congruency in judgments”, happy people are more likely than sad people to expect nice weather for a picnic, because nice weather is congruent with their pleasant mood.
Mayer and colleagues (1992) extended “this mood-congruent judgment” effect to a variety of tasks, in which they concluded that participants experiencing a negative mood were more likely to generate negative responses across the various tasks, whereas participants experiencing a positive mood responded more favorably. Together, these studies point to a correspondence between positive or negative mood states and the salience of positive or negative information contributing to decision-making.
Also, some studies in mood congruency in the laboratory, used mood induction procedures to produce mood-congruent judgments. Another study demonstrated a link between mood induction and increased risk-taking in decision-making. An experiment by Isen, Nygren, and Ashby (1988) found that subjects induced into a positive mood demonstrated an increased preference for avoiding losses. This suggests that individuals in a positive mood are motivated to maintain that mood, and thus tend perceived losses as more aversive, than individuals in a neutral mood. Taking a dangerous chance is not worth the risk of upsetting their mood. By contrast, distressed individuals tend to select more risky options.
Leith and Baumeister (1996) conducted a series of experiments aimed at showing how negative moods lead to disadvantageous choices. One experiment asked subjects to create autobiographical narratives and found that participants were more likely to recollect previous experiences where riskier alternatives were preceded by unpleasant moods. The researchers theorized that negative moods result in a failure to rationally consider the subjective value of possible outcomes, and thus may lead to a lack of self-control.
As lawyers, it is of extreme importance to be aware of the effect that mood has on decision making. This awareness is not only important when we are the ones defining legal strategies on behalf of our clients, but also when the decision is in their hands. It is part of our job to make sure we are assisting our client in the best possible way. By knowing how directly the mood can influence a decision, it is important to:
- try to find the client’s current mood, for example by asking about neutral things; and
- try to lead them to a neutral/positive mood in order to pursue them to make a more rational decision.
MARIA EDUARDA MOOG
(Picture with courtesy of Pixabay)