Mood Graphics courtesy of Medical News TodayOpens in new window

A mood is a type of emotional experience. It is relatively long-lasting, persisting for up to several weeks or months, and there is no particular object toward which the feeling is directed; a mood is free floating. A good way to understand mood is to contrast it with the related concept of emotion (also called an emotion episode)Opens in new window.

An emotion episode is an immediate, temporary reaction to an event or experience (or an imagined event or experience).

  • When a person experiences an emotionOpens in new window, s/he feels something toward a particular object, for example, she may be mad at a particular person or circumstance.
  • When a person is experiencing a mood, she probably does not know why s/he feels that way, and the feeling is not directed toward anyone or anything in particular—s/he is just mad.

EmotionsOpens in new window are temporary experiences. What exactly is meant by temporary is not rigidly determined. However, when research participants are asked to report on their emotional reactions to events, they typically state that the emotional episode lasts between several minutes and several hours.

Moods tend to last for minutes, hours, days, or weeks, as a background to emotional experience. It is often unclear when exactly the mood started or ended. For several decades, researchers have been studying the effects of moods on other experiences. For instance, mood can affect perception.

In studies conducted by Niedenthal and Setterlund (1994), it was found that people pay more attention to stimuli or events that are consistent with their already-existing mood. In their studies, they induced mood by playing different types of classical music to participants.

  • One group heard happy classical music such as Vivaldi’s Cocerto in C Major.
  • The second group listened to sad music such as Adagietto by Mozart.

All participants were asked to do a task on the computer, which was to respond to strings of letters. Some strings of letters were words and some were not words (simply strings of letters that were pronounceable in English).

There were five different types of words: happy, positive (but not happy), sad, negative (but not sad), and neutral.

Participants were presented with these different words or nonwords one at a time.

The task was to indicate whether the stimulus was a word or nonword. Reaction time was measured for each response.

Consistent with their hypothesis, people responded more quickly to words that were congruent with the quality of classical music to which they were listening (which presumably affected mood). Specifically, people who listened to happy music responded more quickly to happy words than to all other words, and people who listened to sad music responded more quickly to sad words than to all other words.

Niedenthal and Setterlund concluded that one’s current mood can affect perception or what one attends to. They suggested that this may be one mechanism through which moods tend to persist: what we see in the world reinforces the way we already feel, and we are relatively unperceiving of stimuli that are inconsistent with our moods.

Mood has been studied in relation to other experiences or behavior, including memory, general cognition, and social behavior. Eich, Kihlstrom, Bower, Forgas, and Niedenthal (2000) review some of the research in the broad area of cognition in their book Cognition and Emotion.

See also:
  1. Eich, E., Kihlstrom, J.F., Bower, G. H., Forgas, J.P., & Niedenthal, P.M. (2000). Cognition and emotion. New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Niedenthal, P.M., & Setterlund, M.B. (1994). Emotion congruence in perception. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 401 – 411.