When necessity is the mother of invention: Mood and problem solving

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Happy moods foster the ability to think about problems in new ways, but little is known about how sad moods affect this process. This paper investigates the hypothesis that individuals in sad moods adhere to the data and might not think about problems in new ways until they receive data indicating that it is appropriate to do so. To investigate this hypothesis, participants in happy, sad, and neutral moods completed a classic mental set task (Luchins, 1942). All mood groups were able to break the mental set and to think about the problems in a new way, but mood affected when they did so. Consistent with the idea that individuals in sad moods adhere to the data, they relied on the mental set until they received evidence that it may be problematic. In contrast, individuals in happier moods were more likely to abandon the mental set on their own, rather than wait for evidence of its inadequacy. In three follow-up experiments, when the information provided by participants' sad feelings was rendered uninformative, the mood effect disappeared. These findings are consistent with the claim that affect influences processing only when it provides information about how to proceed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)248-262
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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