Being a Curmudgeon Makes You a Lot More Productive

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Being a Curmudgeon Makes You a Lot More Productive

Curmudgeons everywhere rejoice… Oh wait, rejoicing is impossible for curmudgeons everywhere — or anywhere for that matter. But this inability to experience joy is actually a good thing for productivity, because according to a new study, a bad mood can leave curmudgeons more focused and detail-oriented than those with a sunnier disposition (who, it turns out, you definitely don’t want to task with doing your taxes). 

Perhaps that’s why so many grumpy people work at the DMV — their, um, attention to detail. 

“Mood and language seem to be supported by different brain networks. But we have one brain, and the two are processed in the same brain, so there’s a lot of interaction going on,” study co-author Vicky Lai, an assistant professor of psychology and cognitive science at the University of Arizona, who partnered with scientists in the Netherlands to demonstrate how the brain responds to language in a good or bad mood, explained in a press release. “We show that when people are in a negative mood, they are more careful and analytical. They scrutinize what’s actually stated in a text, and they don’t just fall back on their default world knowledge.”

To reach this conclusion, Lai and her colleagues showed study participants clips from either Friends (the upbeat choice) or Sophie’s Choice (the total downer choice). Next, the participants listened to a series of sentences that were increasingly complex and occasionally didn’t make sense (like Chandler’s job in Friends), while the activity of their brains were monitored via EEG. Participants went through this process twice — once after watching Friends and once after watching Sophie’s Choice, with a week-long break in-between. 

Those in negative moods displayed more brain activity associated with re-analysis. “We show that mood matters, and perhaps when we do some tasks, we should pay attention to our mood,” Lai explained. “If we’re in a bad mood, maybe we should do things that are more detail-oriented, such as proofreading.” (You can determine my mood when writing this post by how many typos you find in it.)

“When thinking about how mood affects them, many people just consider things like being grumpy, eating more ice cream, or at best, interpreting somebody else’s talk in a biased way,” added study co-author Jos van Berkum, a psycholinguistics researcher at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “But there’s much more going on, also in unexpected corners of our minds. Imagine your laptop being more or less precise as a function of its battery level — that’s unthinkable. But in human information processing, and presumably also in (information processing) of related species, something like that seems to be going on.”

And so, if anyone asks, you’re not angry, you’re just trying out the latest productivity hack.

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