The Benefits of Being Sad

Sadness is usually thought of as a negative emotion, such as anger and fear but from an evolutionary perspective, it appears there may actually be benefits. Joseph P. Forgas at UC Berkeley has done research to show that sadness can actually:

“improve attention to external details, reduce judgmental bias, increase perseverance, and promote generosity.”

Which shows that being sad actually has adaptive functions and can benefit our lives.

Check out these 3 studies and the POSITIVE impacts that sadness can have:

 Sadness and Memory

A study done looking at memory and weather shows that though the bad weather can put you in a bad mood, it helps memory. People who entered a store on a gloomy day actually remembered items in the shop in more detail than on a sunny day in the same situation.

In another experiment, Fogas and his colleagues showed participants an image of either a wedding or a car crash then asked them to recall a sad or happy memory from their past. When asked to remember something sad, and then asked to recall the image, they remembered the image more clearly and disregarded the disorienting information. With the happy memories, they made more errors in recalling the photo.

  • “What we remember about the past can be greatly altered by subsequent misinformation. It seems that negative mood reduces the likelihood that later false information will distort the original memory.”

 

Sadness and Judgement

Participants were asked to rate the likelihood of 25 false statements and 25 true statements, after they were told what was true and what was false, their moods were recorded at that time. Only the sad participants were able to recall the difference correctly between the true and false claims they had answered previously.

  • “Sad moods reduce other common judgmental biases, such as ‘the fundamental attribution error,’ in which people attribute intentionality to others’ behavior while ignoring situational factors, and the ‘halo effect,’ where judges tend to assume a person having some positive feature—such as a handsome face—is likely to have others, such as kindness or intelligence. Negative moods can also reduce another judgmental bias, primacy effects—when people place too much emphasis on early information and ignore later details. So negative mood can improve the accuracy of impression formation judgments, by promoting a more detailed and attentive thinking style.”

 

Sadness and Motivation

In another study, either a happy or sad film was shown to participants, after which they were made to complete a long and demanding cognitive assignment with no time limits. Perseverance was assessed by looking at the total time they spent on the questions, how many were answered, and how many were correct. The happy participants spent less time answering the questions, attempted fewer items, and had less correct answers than the sad participants who spent a longer time period, put in more effort, and ended up getting many correct answers.

  • “A sad mood can increase and happy mood can reduce perseverance with difficult tasks, possibly because people are less motivated to exert effort when they already experience a positive mood. Sad moods, in turn, may increase perseverance as people see greater potential benefits of making an effort.”

Just like anything in life, it is what you make it. You can’t always control how you feel, especially when you’re just plain sad. But, you can use it to your advantage!

 

Sasha

Co- Founder of Psych n Sex, previous writer and campus educator for the Kinsey Institute & published psychology researcher. Manhattan girl obsessed with post ww2 abstract expressionism, beet juice, vintage clothing & Scandinavia.

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