Ever observed that when you're happy, you decide to check out the new restaurant across town but when sad, you just turn to comfort foods? Well, these scenarios can be explained by the latest finding: A negative mood imparts a warm glow to the familiar while happiness makes novelty attractive.
Led by University of California, San Diego psychology professor Piotr Winkielman, with Marieke de Vries, currently affiliated with the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, the research team has experimentally demonstrated the effect in humans.
Winkielman said that the findings not only contribute to understanding basic human psychology but also have numerous applications: To parenting and other interpersonal relationships and even in many of the "persuasion professions."
According to the researchers, the research could be useful in business, in marketing and advertising and in political campaigns.
For the study, the researchers presented participants with random dot patterns resembling constellations in the sky and made these familiar through exposure.
The researchers put some of the participants in a good mood and others in a bad mood - by asking them to recall joyous or sad events in their lives.
They then maintained the mood by playing appropriate music during the remainder of the test.
Finally, they measured participants' emotional and memory responses to the dot patterns with ratings and, critically, with physiological measures.
The researchers found that saddened participants showed the classic preference for the familiar, even smiling at the sight of familiar patterns. However, a happy mood eliminated the preference.
"When you're happy, known things, familiar things lose their appeal. Novelty, on the other hand, becomes more attractive," Winkielman said.
The study has been published online in the journal Psychological Science.