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Subconscious May Explain Bad Mood
By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People sometimes attribute their bad moods to getting up on the wrong side of the bed. But one researcher has come across a better explanation for unexplained grumpiness. Mysterious bad moods, she has found, may arise when people fail to meet goals they do not even know they have.

Those times when we are down but cannot explain why may result from our failure to reach expectations that are ingrained in our psyche, according to Tanya Chartrand, a researcher at Ohio State University in Columbus. She has dubbed these down times ``mystery moods,'' and her recent study of college students reveals that sometimes they are triggered by unachieved ``nonconscious'' goals.

These unconscious goals take shape after people frequently and consistently set particular achievements for themselves in certain situations, Chartrand explained in an interview. For example, if a person sets a goal of making friends whenever he attends a party, then that goal will eventually become subconsciously linked to party situations. So even years later, when he no longer consciously sets the goal of winning friends, he may still be affected by an unconscious pressure to do so.

That, Chartrand said, means that he also will not realize it when he fails to reach this goal.

``That's where the mystery mood comes in,'' she said. ``You feel kind of crummy, but can't articulate why.''

In a study presented recently in Toronto, Canada, at a meeting of the American Psychological Society, Chartrand looked at subconscious goals and mood among 109 college students. The students completed tasks in which they unscrambled words to form a sentence.

Some of the students worked on sentences that included goal-oriented words like ``achieve'' and ``succeed.'' Previous research, Chartrand noted, has shown that such words can subconsciously enhance a person's will to succeed. The other students unscrambled sentences containing neutral words.

Next, the students completed a timed anagram test in which they had to rearrange the letters of words to create new words. Some were given an easy test, while others labored over a difficult one. All students then completed a questionnaire that evaluated their moods.

Chartrand found significant mood differences only among the students who had been subconsciously ``primed'' to succeed with the sentence task. That is, those given the easy anagrams were in better moods than those given the difficult test. There were no significant mood differences among students who were not primed to succeed.

In real life, such unconscious goals may be behind mysterious bad moods--a phenomenon that could signal a problem, according to Chartrand.

``Sometimes goals become automatic and may no longer be appropriate,'' she explained. For instance, if being around a childhood rival still puts a damper on a person's mood as an adult, it is probably time to recognize and move past the problem.

Moreover, Chartrand said, frequent unexplained moodiness may lead to depression or anxiety, or shape negative views of the world and stereotypes of other people.

Some people who frequently find themselves in bad moods may be able to discover the source by thinking about recent events and how they could have affected their feelings.

``In some cases,'' Chartrand said, ``introspection is enough.'' Others, she noted, may need the help of a therapist.

She stressed that unexplained bad moods should not be confused with clinical depression, which is marked by more severe and persistent low feelings, as well as symptoms such as weight changes and sleep disturbances.

Reference Source 89


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