Negative Mood and Optimism Bias: An Experimental Investigation of Sadness and Belief Updating

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Background and objectives: Understanding how individuals integrate new information to form beliefs under changing emotional conditions is crucial to describing decision-making processes. Previous research suggests that although most people demonstrate bias toward optimistic appraisals of new information when updating beliefs, individuals with dysphoric psychiatric conditions (e.g., major depression) do not demonstrate this same bias. Despite these findings, limited research has investigated the relationship between affective states and belief updating processes.

Methods: We induced neutral and sad moods in participants and had them complete a belief-updating paradigm by estimating the likelihood of negative future events happening to them, viewing the actual likelihood, and then re-estimating their perceived likelihood.

Results: We observed that individuals updated their beliefs more after receiving desirable information relative to undesirable information under neutral conditions. Further, we found that individuals did not demonstrate unrealistic optimism under negative affective conditions.

Limitations: This study incorporated a population of university students under laboratory conditions and would benefit from replication and extension in clinical populations and naturalistic settings.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that momentary fluctuations in mood affect how individuals integrate information to form beliefs.

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Journal of Behavioral Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry



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