Mood Congruency Recall and It’s Effect on Communication

Posted by: admin, In Category: Cognitive Psychology, Communication Strategy, Effective Communication, Neurology / Neurolinguistics, Nonverbal / Body Language, Persuasion, Psychological Platform, Social Psychology

mood congruency and communication 1 271x300 Mood Congruency Recall and It’s Effect on CommunicationThe Effect of Mood Valence on Memory Recall and Communication.

Have you ever noticed that when you are depressed that pretty much everything seems depressing? You may look at a couple happily walking down the street and all you are thinking about is how they are eventually going to get into an argument and break up… Or how they will eventually cheat on each other and end the relationship. Or maybe you are watching your children play and rather than thinking about how wonderful it is that they are happy, all you can think about is how sad it is that they will eventually grow up and leave the nest…

As you probably know by now, the way that our mind makes sense out of things or draws “meaning” from what it is experiencing, is by relating the information it is receiving to semantic, episodic and autobiographical memories that it has stored away. It is like a big filing system in a computer and when it receives a new experience it needs to go into the files to look at similar experiences to see “how this turns out…” if you will.

When your mind is routing around in it’s own filing system, what is very interesting is that there are many possible alternatives from which it can make sense out of the current experience. In other words, this is not a black and white search that will draw up “the exact, uniquely correct” piece of data that will help make sense of things. Experience is indeed subjective, and it is subjective for this very reason. The meaning that a given experience has is dependent not only upon the context it is occurring in but also upon what experiences it is related to… So the question becomes, how does our brain determine what experiences to relate this information/experience to?

Now this is, as you can imagine, a very loaded question and inherently has no simple answer. However, one attribute that is indeed a reliable and integral part of determining which types of memories are recalled is found in what is known as Mood Congruency. The term “mood congruency” refers to a process whereby a specific mood will evoke the recall of memories that are consistent with that very mood. In other words, if you are happy, then you will automatically recall happy memories and sad memories will become more repressed.

In an example given by J. M. G. Williams, (Professor of Clinical Psychology and Wellcome Principal Research Fellow at the University of Oxford) he describes a situation with a depressed patient that he worked with regarding her recollection of going swimming in her past. When she was depressed, she would describe the event as being stressful and humiliating and could really only think about how terrible she looked in a bathing suit. Interesting enough, when she was happy she would recall her swimming experience as being fun and really enjoyable…So why does this occur exactly? How is our brain creating this looping system?

Well it turns out that the culprit of mood congruency lies in the actual encoding of the memories in the first place… in 1982 a very bright Professor of Psychology  from the University of York by the name of Alan Baddley stated this very clearly. When human’s find themselves in an “emotional” state, whether it be happy or sad, the cognitive material that is surrounding them is encoded in a way that is RELATED to the person’s current mental state. What this means is that the context in which an experience occurs is encoded INTERACTIVELY rather than simply in an additive fashion. As a direct result of the way in which the information is encoded, it’s future recall is made significantly easier when the person is in a similar state of mind. In other words, a depressed state will encode information in a depressed way and cause the person to recall this depressed information easier the next time they are depressed.

In an amazing FMRI study performed out of London, participants encoded (put to memory) positive and negative words and then were tested for their subsequent recall. The recall was performed during a number of induced positive and negative moods to see what was happening in the participants brains during their recall. There were two separate encoding “nodes” if you will that they were interested in watching. There are the subgenual cingulated which is associated with the encoding of positively valenced items and the posterior-lateral orbitofrontal cortex which is associated with the encoding of negatively valenced items. Their prediction what that where one was more active during encoding of a word, the same would be more active during the mood congruent retrieval of that same word…

Well their FMRI results showed just that. The node specific encoding of an item showed much more up-regulation activity during attempts to retrieve the same information during mood congruent conditions. In other words, the way a word was encoded dictated the way in which it was retrieved… Why is this important? Well when you are communicating with someone, isn’t it important to know not only what type of information they will be representing in their own speech but also how they will be processing your communication as well?

Have you ever noticed that when you are in an argument that it almost always spirals into itself and implodes into an un-constructive mess? While you are arguing, have you noticed how easily everything comes to mind that the other person did in the pass that made you mad? Or how about their uncanny ability to recall everything YOU did that made them mad? Or how about communicating with a depressed friend. When you are talking to them about how things “aren’t’ so bad” and how they “should cheer up”, isn’t it frustrating how they just continually produce “reasons” why things aren’t that good?

Now you know the reason why… It is NOT their fault. This is simply a naturally occurring neural mechanism that is working in an automatic and covert fashion that is keeping them in their current mental state. So, the question becomes “How do we deal with this from a communication stand point”.

That is a complex question and the notion of aptly dealing with it in a single post is almost absurd. That being said, I will give you a few tips on how to be more effective.

1.      In a heated situation, your best bet is to simply walk away for a bit of time so that things can cool off. Although anger is a mental state, just like any other emotion it also involves hormones and bodily chemicals that are creating internal sensations. Unless you are a very skilled communicator and are effective in talking someone “down from a ledge”, you should agree to leave things alone  until the two of you are more relaxed. Continuing on in a heated discussion will only snowball and result in exacerbating the situation.

2.      In a situation where you are dealing with depression, try to get the person “away” for a bit. This means get them out of the house for a walk or anything else that involves activity. Depression is often a symptom of a person’s bodily chemical composition at the given time. Exercise, or any other form of movement caused the release of both serotonin and dopamine into the brain and body. Although a simple walk won’t make them ecstatic, they will indeed begin to move from their depressed state as a result of it. This in turn can help facilitate the flow of more constructive memories and information into their working memory.

3.      In a situation where you are dealing with happiness… Enjoy it!

Mood congruence is a very real and important communication challenge that needs to be paid close attention to… not only in the people you communicate with but also in yourself while communicating.

To learn more about how the brain works to better your understanding of how to develop effective communication skills, please feel free to explore the rest of my blog The Communication Expert, or if I am online, please feel free to connect with me via Skype.

The Communication Expert | David J. Parnell

The Communication Expert Blog

19 Responses to Mood Congruency Recall and It’s Effect on Communication

  1. Susie says:

    Your commentary is brilliant, thank you for it! So in return, I wanted to share some brain-timeThe Communication Expert Blog
    Refining Interpersonal Communication with you.

    As a country gal now, I’m biased. But I’ve lived in myriad states and nations over my years. And like to think I’ve perspective.

    And for the opening image on a blog to be big city, nearly everybody hermetically sealed into buildings and vehicles – yet for the title to then be “The Communication Expert Blog. Refining Interpersonal Communication”

    Huh? Have you looked much at world maps? At world HISTORY? The photo there is as contrary to your message as is possible I think!

    Perhaps you live in a large city, if so I’m sorry for what you are about to experience. But do know this, most humans are not that densely packed – so, my message is this: you have a great mind, broaden your vision and see how most folks on this ball of dirt have and do live.

    Cheers bud,
    SusieQ

  2. admin says:

    Susie,

    Thank you so much for your remarks and I appreciate your time and effort. This may be a surprise, but I was raised in the country as well… I grew up working on farms and have seen both sides of the coin (Lived in L.A. CA, NJ and work in Manhattan). The picture in the blog is of a busy Manhattan street and if you want to experience all shades of communication, there isn’t a better place in my opinion. Your view point obviously differs and I would love to hear more from you. Please help me understand further…

    DP

  3. Kelly Ferrara says:

    David,
    Thanks for the follow on Twitter. I look forward to reading more.
    Kelly

  4. Chris Howard says:

    I like what I read here. I even like the picture of Manhattan. I lived there and had good times and some bloody awful times. I guess it all depends on what the picture meant to SusieQ – maybe her experiences there jaundiced her view of the City.

  5. I found this posting very inspirational. Thanks for looking into my world for a bit on twitter and the web. What persuaded you to hit the follow button? I will make time to read more of your posts.
    Best wishes
    Mike

  6. I found your insights very helpful, I have battled with depression in the past and still do from time to time. I could never figure out why it would loop into the same thought pattern. Now I know why!
    I find if I keep busy blogging and writing novels, it keeps me happy.

    If I’m down I will do something that I enjoy, even if it’s only for 30 minutes, I find this will lift my mood.

  7. admin says:

    Hello Linda,

    I am glad that I can help. The feeling of depression can result from the “looping effect” of not only similarly valenced information (mood congruent recall), but also extremely predictable and structured patterns.

    When you engage in the same experiences consistently, the pattern can begin to actually close in on itself. Stronger pattern produces stronger recall which intensifies the pattern itself… This will begin to shut out or extricate actions and experiences (from your daily routine) that are not congruent with the mood.

    The result can be extreme depression manifesting in a “shutting off” per se of the outside world. (Sleeping, closing the blinds, shutting out stimuli, etc…). The best way to break this is to, well, do what you’re doing… Despite not feeling the desire to engage in other action, you force yourself to do it anyway… This “break” in pattern will disrupt the recall effect, stimulate blood flow and change the chemical “make up” of your body at that time… All of this is very helpful in overcoming depressive symptoms. Please email me if there is anything else I can do to help… davidjparnell@gmail.com

    David

  8. Hi David

    I am a person that has suffered with a Weltschmerz in the past. I have learned to recognize its onset and have learned to overcome it by allowing myself to become creative.

    Origins of the word: Weltschmerz
    Etymology: German, from Welt = world + Schmerz = pain
    1 : mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state
    2 : a mood of sentimental sadness

    I wrote a Cinquain triplet about it about 12 years ago. I hope you don’t mind me sharing the link below:

    http://bit.ly/5io65I

    Friendly regards
    ~Daniel K

    PS: I hope this helps someone out there!

  9. Watzzupsport says:

    I like your material on this blog Dave, you seem to have not posted lately I hope you are still going to keep the material coming.
    I am a great believer in the effect Movement and diet has on a person and their mental well being.

    I will look more into the term mood congruency and your statement Depression is often a symptom of a person’s bodily chemical composition at the given time, is quite a minefield to tread for the understanding of is it the thoughts that create the chemical imbalance or vise versa.

    Regards Russell

  10. admin says:

    Hi Daniel,

    Thank you for your comment and I hope your writing can help others…

    David J. Parnell

  11. admin says:

    Hi Russell,

    Thanks for your comment. Indeed, this can be a chicken before the egg scenario… A state of depression, like any other affective state can (and will) have a “looping effect” where it feeds itself… In my opinion, it is most important to focus on the thought portion of the puzzle. This is because you have direct and immediate volitional control over that. It may sound a bit corny, but thoughts and immediate physiological state are a major component in feeding depression or any other affect. The chemical component is a bit more of a long term project… Exercise, nutrition and general lifestyle trends will generally need a revamping when chemicals involved (this is aside from medication). I hope this helps, if not, please feel free to contact me…

    David J. Parnell

  12. Isaih Hynes says:

    The Communication skills that you demonstrate in an interview are critical to your success, not only as a candidate but as a professional where an applicant proves themselves as a unique person to be the part of an organization. Remember that interview is always pre-planned and structured. It’s a formal presentation between an interviewer and an interviewee. You need to have the following Communication Skills counseling if you want to impress an interviewer.

  13. Isaih Hynes says:

    The Communication skills that you demonstrate in an interview are critical to your success, not only as a candidate but as a professional where an applicant proves themselves as a unique person to be the part of an organization. Remember that interview is always pre-planned and structured. It’s a formal presentation between an interviewer and an interviewee. You need to have the following Communication Skills counselingif you want to impress an interviewer.

  14. Emily says:

    David,
    Thanks for the follow on Twitter. I look forward to reading more.
    Kelly

  15. admin says:

    Isaih, I agree with your assertions… Thanks for the comments!

    David

  16. admin says:

    Hi Kelley,

    I look forward to your tweets as well, thanks for stopping by :)

    David

  17. Amy says:

    The Communication skills that you demonstrate in an interview are critical to your success, not only as a candidate but as a professional where an applicant proves themselves as a unique person to be the part of an organization. Remember that interview is always pre-planned and structured. It’s a formal presentation between an interviewer and an interviewee. You need to have the following Communication Skills counselingif you want to impress an interviewer.

  18. Hi David,

    Thank you for an interesting and informative article. I work as a life coach and communication teacher as well and have found that developing successful communication strategies is key to solving many of life’s difficulties, whether it is self-communication, in romantic and family relationships, at work or with friends.

    I have noticed a pattern with many abuse survivors that any form of whatever they consider “conflict” or a trigger pattern learned from past abuse will also cause them to store any information associated with that trigger in the same area as their abuse memories. Thus, it becomes extremely difficult for them to resolve issues through communication, because trying to think about the problem takes them back into that mood, so they seek to avoid even thinking about it much less addressing it directly. This pattern too can be overcome, but it needs to be recognized.

    An additional tip for changing moods is from neuro-science. As you pointed out, a mood is not only a mental state, but has a bio-chemical component in the body. Studies have shown that it only takes 90 seconds to make the complete chemical changeover. That’s great news! It means that the very LONGEST you ever have to feel depressed, angry, guilty, etc. is ONLY 90 SECONDS! Your tip to do some physical activity is very helpful. It is also helpful to simply smile, as that releases serotonin and dopamines as well.

    Much love,

    Nadine Sabulsky
    The Naked Life Coach
    http://www.TheNakedLifeCoach.com

  19. admin says:

    Nadine,

    Thank you for the comment. That is interesting about the 90 second study; I’d love to read it… It does ground my assertions regarding physical activity – good to hear!

    Best,

    David

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