Bad Mood

This section of Graphic Humor in political-economic, national or international issues, are very ingenious in describing what happened, is happening or will happen. It also extends to various other local issues or passing around the world. There are also other non-political humor that ranges from reflective or just to get us a smile when we see them. Anyone with basic education and to stay informed of important news happening in our local and global world may understand and enjoy them. Farewell!. (CTsT)

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It’s easy to appreciate the seasonality of winter blues, but web searches show that other disorders may ebb and flow with the weather as well.

Google searches are becoming an intriguing source of health-related information, exposing everything from the first signs of an infectious disease outbreak to previously undocumented side effects of medications. So researchers led by John Ayers of the University of Southern California decided to comb through queries about mental illnesses to look for potentially helpful patterns related to these conditions. Given well known connections between depression and winter weather, they investigated possible connections between mental illnesses and seasons.

Using all of Google’s search data from 2006 to 2010, they studied searches for terms like “schizophrenia” “attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),” “bulimia” and “bipolar” in both the United States and Australia.  Since winter and summer are reversed in the two countries finding opposing patterns in the two countries’ data would strongly suggest that season, rather than other things that might vary with time of year, was important in some way in the prevalence of the disorders.


“All mental health queries followed seasonal patterns with winter peaks and summer troughs,” the researchers write in their study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. They found that mental health queries in general were 14% higher in the winter in the U.S. and 11% higher in the Australian winter.

The seasonal timing of queries regarding each disorder was also similar in the two countries. In both countries, for example, searches about eating disorders (including anorexia and bulimia) and schizophrenia surged during winter months; those in the U.S. were 37% more likely and Australians were 42% more likely to seek information about these disorders during colder weather than during the summer. And compared to summer searches, schizophrenia queries were 37% more common in the American winter and 36% more frequent during the Australian winter. ADHD queries were also highly seasonal, with 31% more winter searches in the U.S. and 28% more in Australia compared to summer months.

Searches for depression and bipolar disorder, which might seem to be among the more common mental illnesses to strike during the cold winter months, didn’t solicit as many queries: there were 19% more winter searches for depression in the U.S. and 22% more in Australia for depression. For bipolar, 16% more American searches for the term occurred in the winter than in the summer, and 18% more searches occurred during the Australian winter. The least seasonal disorder was anxiety, which varied by just 7% in the U.S. and 15% in Australia between summer and winter months.

Understanding how the prevalence of mental illnesses change with the seasons could lead to more effective preventive measures that alert people to symptoms and guide them toward treatments that could help, say experts. Previous research suggests that shorter daylight hours and the social isolation that accompanies harsh weather conditions might explain some of these seasonal differences in mental illnesses, for example, so improving social interactions during the winter months might be one way to alleviate some symptoms. Drops in vitamin D levels, which rise with exposure to sunlight, may also play a role, so supplementation for some people affected by mood disorders could also be effective.


The researchers emphasize that searches for disorders are only queries for more information, and don’t necessarily reflect a desire to learn more about a mental illness after a new diagnosis. For example, while the study found that searches for ‘suicide’ were 29% more common in winter in America and 24% more common during the colder season in Australia, other investigations showed that completed suicides tend to peak in spring and early summer. Whether winter queries have any relationship at all to spring or summer suicides isn’t clear yet, but the results suggest a new way of analyzing data that could lead to better understanding of a potential connection.

And that’s the promise of data on web searches, says the scientists. Studies on mental illnesses typically rely on telephone or in-person surveys in which participants are asked about symptoms of mental illness or any history with psychological disorders, and people may not always answer truthfully in these situations. Searches, on the other hand, have the advantage of reflecting people’s desire to learn more about symptoms they may be experiencing or to improve their knowledge about a condition for which they were recently diagnosed. So such queries could become a useful resource for spotting previously undetected patterns in complex psychiatric disorders.  “The current results suggest that monitoring queries can provide insight into national trends on seeking information regarding mental health, such as seasonality…If additional studies can validate the current approach by linking clinical symptoms with patterns of search queries,” the authors conclude, “This method may prove essential in promoting population mental health.”


Weighty choices can be shifted by surprising factors.


Imagine you’re standing on a footbridge over some trolley tracks. Below you, an out-of-control trolley is bearing down on five unaware individuals standing on the track. Standing next to you is a large man. You realize that the only way to prevent the five people from being killed by the trolley is to push the man off the bridge, into the path of the trolley. His body would stop the trolley, saving the lives of the five people further down the track.

What would you do? Would you push the man to save the others? Or would you stand by and watch five people die, knowing that you could have saved them? Regardless of which option you choose, you no doubt believe that it will reflect your deeply held personal convictions, not trifles such as your mood.

Well, think again. In a paper published in the March edition of the journal Cognition, a group of German researchers have shown that people’s mood can strongly influence how they respond to this hypothetical scenario. Though this general observation is well-known in the literature on moral judgments and decision making, the current paper helps to resolve a question which has long lurked in the background. That is, how does this happen? What is the mechanism through which moods influence our moral decisions?

Early research showed a difference between personal moral decisions, such as the footbridge problem above, and impersonal moral decisions, such as whether to keep money found in a lost wallet. Areas of the brain usually characterized as responsible for processing emotional information seemed to be more strongly engaged when making these personal as opposed to impersonal moral decisions, they found. These scientists concluded that emotions were playing a strong role in these personal moral judgments while the more calculating, reasoning part of our mind was taking a siesta.

Unfortunately, given the various shortcomings of previous investigations on this particular topic, there are a variety of other explanations for the observation that emotions, or the more general emotional states known as moods, affect how people may respond to the footbridge scenario.

For example, moods could influence the thought process itself.  This is the “moral thought” hypothesis: just as something like attention may change our thought process by biasing how we perceive two choices, mood could also bias our thought process, resulting in different patterns of moral thinking. This is different from the “moral emotion” hypothesis, which suggests that emotions directly change how we feel about the moral choice. That is, our good mood could making us feel better (or worse) about potentially pushing, and therefore more (or less) likely to do it. Resolving this ambiguity with neuroimaging studies such as the one detailed above is difficult because of fMRI’s low temporal resolution – a brain scan is similar to taking a camera with the exposure set to a couple of seconds. This makes it difficult to faithfully capture events which happen quickly, such as whether moods change the experience of the decision, or if they directly influence the thought process.

To test these competing ideas, participants were first put into a specific mood by listening to music and write down an autobiographical memory. Those in the positive mood condition listened to Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusic and wrote down a positive memory, while those in the negative mood condition listened to Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Opus 11 and wrote down a negative memory. The participants in the neutral mood condition listened to Kraftwerk’s Pocket Calculator and wrote about a neutral memory.

After this mood induction procedure, participants were then presented with the trolley scenario. Some participants were asked: “Do you think it is appropriate to be active and push the man?” while others were asked “Do you think it is appropriate to be passive and not push the man?”.

Participants in a positive mood were more inclined to agree to the question, regardless of which way it was asked. If asked if it was okay to push, they were more likely to push. If asked if it was okay not to push, they were more likely to not push. The opposite pattern was found for those in a negative mood.

If mood directly changed our experience of potentially pushing — the moral emotion hypothesis — then putting people in a positive mood should have made them more likely to push, no matter how the question was asked. The ‘moral thought’ hypothesis, on the other hand, accounts for these results quite nicely. Specifically, it is known from previous research that positive moods validate accessible thoughts, and negative moods invalidate accessible thoughts. So, for example, if I ask you if it’s okay to push, you will begin to consider the act of pushing, making this thought accessible. If you’re in a positive mood, that mood acts on this thought process by making you more likely to feel as though this is an acceptable behavior – it validates the thought of pushing. On the other hand, if I were to ask if it is okay to not push, the positive mood should validate the thought of not pushing, leading you to feel like not pushing is an acceptable behavior. Negative mood, which invalidates accessible thought, has a parallel effect, but in the opposite direction. Thus, this idea fits well with the observed pattern of results in this experiment.

These findings raise some further questions, some of which psychologists have been attempting to answer for a long time. Emotions and logical thought are frequently portrayed as competing processes, with emotions depicted as getting in the way of effective decision-making. The results here are another demonstration that instead of competing, our emotions and our cognitions interact and work closely to determine our behaviors. In fact, some researchers have recently begun to suggest that the division between these two is rather tough to make, and there may not actually be any meaningful difference between thought and emotion. After all, if moods and emotions play a fundamental role in information processing, what differentiates them on a functional level from other basic kinds of cognitive processes, such as attention or memory? This paper obviously doesn’t resolve this issue, but it is certainly another piece of the puzzle.

It would also be exciting, as the authors say, to see how more specific emotions might influence our moral decision-making. Anger and sadness are both negative emotions, but differ in important ways. Could these subtle differences also lead to differences in how we make moral judgments?

This paper demonstrates that our professed moral principles can be shifted by subtle differences in mood and how a question is posed. Though there are plenty of implications for our daily lives, one that arguably screams the loudest concerns the yawning gap between how humans actually think and behave, and how the legal system pretends they think and behave. The relative rigidity of western law stands in stark contrast to the plasticity of human thought and behavior. If a simple difference in mood changes how likely one person is to throw another over a footbridge, then does this imply that the law should account for a wider variety of situational factors than it does presently? Regardless of how you feel, it is clear that this paper, and behavioral science in general, should contribute to the decision. Having a legal system based on reality is far preferable to one based on fantasy.


By Travis Riddle (March 2013)


Travis Riddle is a doctoral student in the psychology department at Columbia University. His work in the Sparrow Lab focuses on the sense of control people have over their thoughts and actions, and the perceptual and self-regulatory consequences of this sense of control.