People in a Bad Mood Judge Others Harshly…Unless Made Aware of Their Bad Mood

March 6th, 2014 by Ravi Iyer

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

One of the many great posters I saw at the main conference for Social and Personality Psychology belonged to Mayuko Onuki, a graduate student at the University of Southern California.  I’ll let her introduce the poster herself.


This is a link to the full poster: Onuki_Poster SPSP2014.

Along with colleagues at USC, Onuki analyzed the effects from 55 separate studies which show that people who are sad tend to judge others more harshly.  Beyond establishing the baseline effect, which was indeed significant, they looked at the differences between studies to see what may account for smaller or larger effects.  For those of us who wish to reduce harsh judgments within or across groups, which may be exacerbated by foul moods, the boundary conditions for the effects of mood on judgments are important.  For example, they found that effects were smaller when individuals were aware of the source of their sadness, suggesting that one possible way to reduce harsh judgments among individuals who are in a bad mood is to have them take a moment to consider that the source of their bad mood may not be the individuals they are judging.

Like all research on unpredictable human beings, there are limitations here.  Social science findings are best thought of as parables, giving you evidence for ideas that may or may not apply to your current situation through data-driven, as opposed to narrative-driven stories.  Perhaps the next time you are trying to bring two groups together on a dark rainy day where a foul mood permeates the room, you’ll consider this data-driven parable and consider pointing out the weather.  And maybe the groups you are working with will be a little bit less harsh on each other.  If anyone does have stories which mirror this research, please do contact us.

- Ravi Iyer

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