Happiness May Help You See the Big Picture: Positive Mood Increases Abstract Construal
Interesting…. “Five experiments indicated that a positive (vs. negative) mood increases abstract (concrete) construal”
Abstract (Via ChicagoBooth)
We propose that a positive mood, by signaling that a situation is benign, might allow people to step back and take in the big picture. As a consequence, a positive mood might increase abstract construal and the adoption of abstract, future goals. In contrast, a negative mood, by signaling not only danger but also its imminence, might focus attention on immediate and proximal concerns and reduce the adoption of abstract, future goals.
Introduction (Via Chicago Booth)
Ever consider that the pictures of your children smiling on your refrigerator door do more than just make you feel good—that they possibly help you make better and healthier food choices? Might the funnies in the newspaper do more than just make you laugh; do they actually help you get a broader perspective of the daily news? And feeling happy (vs. unhappy) would your food choices or perspective on world issues be any different if you were focused on why health or news is important to your future instead of how you should improve your health or gain information in the moment?
On the one hand, existing research has argued that a positive mood plays an adaptive role in human functioning (Aspinwall 1998; Isen and Labroo 2003; Raghunathan and Trope 2000). It broadens attention and allows people to focus on future opportunities (Fishbach and Labroo 2007). Therefore, with respect to the foregoing example, a positive mood will signal that long-term goals are an opportunity not to be disengaged from and result in healthy food choices and a broader perspective on the news. However, other research has argued that a positive (vs. negative) mood signals that all is currently well (Andrade 2005; Pham 1998; Schwarz and Clore 1983). Therefore, with respect to the forgoing examples, this latter stream of research would make the opposite prediction; that is, a positive mood will signal that in the moment regulation is not needed, and the person will readily indulge in rich foods and not bother about today’s news.
Findings (via Chicago Booth)
Thus, the current findings add to the understanding of the influence of mood on consumer judgment and information processing. Building on the mood-as-information perspective, we proposed and found that a positive mood leads to high-level construal, which facilitates engagement in goals that are abstract and disengagement from goals that are concrete or inaccessible. Our data are consistent with findings in the existing literature but offer a novel reinterpretation of some of the observed effects, which may previously have been attributed to heuristic processing. An important contribution is that our data distinguish that the effect we observed arises not because a positive mood (cue) is itself abstract but rather because a positive mood (cue) activates an abstract construal. This distinction is subtle but important because the former implies that a positive mood (cue) will always be abstract, whereas the latter implies that if a positive mood (cue) can be associated with concrete construal, a boundary condition will be demonstrated for our effects. For example, although we suggested that a positive mood increases abstract construal because it allows a person to distance him- or herself psychologically from a situation that seems to be going well and that, in doing so, the person is able to see the big picture better, what if it is not possible for the person to distance him- or herself psychologically? This might happen if expectancy of success on a task is high or goal completion is imminent. In such a situation, it may not be possible for the person to distance him- or herself psychologically from the outcome; a positive mood might even increase expectation of success relative to a negative mood and reduce distancing. As a consequence, when expectancy of success on an outcome is high, participants in a positive mood may infer task completion or adequate goal progress and reduce their efforts, thus engaging in heuristic processing.